Mixed legality of marijuana on state, federal levels leaves gun owners in limbo

Illinois Recreational Marijuana
Data pix.

CHICAGO — The new state law allowing dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana in Illinois may have some side-effects for gun owners.

There’s still confusion swirling around what happens when weed and weapons come together. At Maxon Shooter’s Supplies in Des Plaines, owner Dan Eldridge says customers are confused about the contradictions between state and federal law.

“We’re principally getting two questions: number one, will the Illinois State Police revoke my FOID card, will they revoke my concealed carry? The most common question we get after that: am I still legal to purchase a firearm?” Eldridge said.

Neither question has a clear answer. The State of Illinois requires all gun owners, and anyone looking to buy a gun, to have a registered Firearms Owner Identification (FOID) card. These cards are issued by the Illinois State Police.

Following questions from the public, state police posted a written statement on Facebook saying: “The Illinois State Police will not revoke Firearm’s Owner’s Identification Cards based solely on a person’s legal use of adult use cannabis.”

The question is what is the definition of "legal" use? Insofar as the State of Illinois is concerned, recreational use is OK. But marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 Narcotic — and against the law — on the federal level.

“ATF has told us — and they have on the form to purchase a firearm — that marijuana is still a disqualifier,” Eldridge said.

Federal law requires all federally-licensed firearm dealers to complete a “transaction record” that states: “marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside.”

Guidance from the U.S. Justice Department in a memo dated from 2011 gives a similar warning: “Any person who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of whether his or her state has passed legislation ... is an unlawful user."

"No matter what your state says about marijuana, it is illegal in the eyes of the ATF, and therefore disqualifying,” Eldridge said.

Since the new Illinois law says cannabis dispensaries may not enter customers into a database or share their information, even with state police or the ATF, it's unlikely federal agencies would learn about recreational marijuana purchases.

“The act itself actually forbids both the state and the dispensaries from sharing and collecting any information on customers,” Eldridge said.

But there is a database of medical marijuana card holders. For these users, FOID cards have not been revoked — but they are denying purchases of firearms.

“The trouble is the ISP and the ATF are in a box; they have to enforce the law as it's written. They can’t make this stuff up. So If federal law says it’s illegal they have to say it’s disqualifying,” Eldridge said.

So until the laws governing marijuana and firearms are reconciled, the cannabis confusion will continue.

“Until those two come into alignment I think we’re going to be sitting in this limbo indefinitely," Eldridge said.

Eldridge says any potential purchaser of a firearms should know a simple rule: if you’re using cannabis, you can’t buy a gun.

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