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People who support legalizing marijuana should proceed with caution, claims a recent Facebook post about communities that are decriminalizing the drug for medical and recreational use.
"Nearly every state that has legalized it has also legislated that you lose your right to own a gun if you are prescribed it, or buy it recreationally," the May 14 post says. "Pot legalization is turning out to be a back-door way for the government to get you to voluntarily give up your gun rights."
This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
A federal law that pre-dates legalization does prohibit users of controlled substances — including marijuana — from possessing firearms. But we found no evidence that states have legalized marijuana and then enacted their own laws to ban cannabis users from owning a gun. Dozens of states have legalized marijuana and we reached out to some of them to ask about the post. No one could corroborate the Facebook post’s claim.
Alex Traverso, a spokesman for the Bureau of Cannabis Control in California, told us he’s never even heard such a claim, nor seen anything about it in the state’s regulations.
Brian Smith, a spokesman for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, said there’s "no link between purchasing recreational or medical marijuana and owning a gun."
"The product is not traced post-retail sale so there is no way of even linking the two," he said.
Madeline Kane with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission said the agency doesn’t regulate firearms. But, she said, "it is our understanding that what you have described may be related to federal policy."
Because marijuana is still illegal under federal law, said Tara Dunn, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, it’s still classified as a controlled substance. People who apply for a firearm must complete a federal form that asks in part about unlawful marijuana use.
"Warning," the form says under a question about the unlawful use of marijuana or other substances. "The use or possession of 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."
That means that marijuana users may be rejected from purchasing a firearm, Dunn said.
Next, we turned to some marijuana experts to help us parse the federal and state laws.
Matt Simon, the New England political director with Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates for marijuana policy reforms, including decriminalizing marijuana use, said the Facebook claim "is absolutely false."
"I’m not aware of any state medical cannabis law or adult use legalization law that explicitly prohibits cannabis users from owning firearms," he said.
However, he said, under federal law it has long been considered illegal for a user of a controlled substance — including marijuana — to possess a firearm. Those are policies from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), though, not state law.
In some cases, Simon said, local law enforcement has enforced the federal prohibition. While the Department of Health and Human Services in New Hampshire is forbidden by state law from sharing information from its therapeutic cannabis patient registry with federal agencies, Hawaii lets local police access its medical cannabis registry and gun owner registry.
Simon pointed to a 2017 Miami Herald story that reported the Honolulu Police Department sent letters to all medical cannabis patients who were also registered gun owners and told them they had 30 days to surrender their firearms. After pushback, Simon said, the police department said it wouldn’t enforce the policy.
Some states have moved to protect the gun rights of medical marijuana users. In Oklahoma, for example, the governor signed a bill on April 15 that says state and local agencies can’t deny gun rights to people because they use medical marijuana. Earlier this year U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney, a Republican from West Virginia, filed a bill that would amend federal law so that medicinal marijuana users wouldn’t be disqualified from purchasing a gun. (No action has been taken since it was introduced in the House on April 3.)
The Facebook post says that nearly every state that has legalized marijuana has also legislated that people who use cannabis lose their right to own a gun.
We didn’t find evidence to support this claim.
While federal law prohibits marijuana users from owning a firearm, states are not legalizing cannabis and then passing legislation that requires marijuana users to forfeit their gun rights.
We rate this Facebook post as False.
Facebook post, May 14, 2019
Rolling Stone, "United States of Weed," June 17, 2019
U.S. Department of Justice, Firearms transaction record, visited July 3, 2019
Miami Herald, "Medical marijuana users have ‘30 days’ to turn in their guns, police say," Nov. 29, 2017
Honolulu Star Advertiser, "HPD won’t take guns from medical marijuana users," Dec. 5, 2017
H.R. 2071, filed April 3, 2019
KOAM News Now, "Medical marijuana patients in Okla. to be allowed to own, purchase firearms," April 22, 2019
Email interview with Matthew Van Sickle, public affairs specialist, Oregon Liquor Control Commission, June 19, 2019
Email interview with Mindy McCartt, communications director, Oregon State Police, June 21, 2019
Email interview with Jonathan Caulkins, professor of operations research and public policy, Carnegie Mellon University, June 18, 2019
Email interview with Alex Traverso, assistant chief of communications, Bureau of Cannabis Control, California, June 17, 2019
Email interview with Brian Smith, communications director, Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, June 17, 2019
Email interview with Madeline Kane, Oregon Liquor Control Commission, June 19, 2019
Email interview with Tara Dunn, marijuana communications specialist, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, June 24, 2019
Email interview with Matt Simon, New England policy director, Marijuana Policy Project, June 18, 2019
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