A GOP Congressman has submitted a new bill that aims to protect cannabis users’ Second Amendment rights by exempting residents of legalized states from being declared as “unlawful user(s)” of a controlled substance banned from possessing or owning a weapon.
Rep. Don Young (R-AK) and two GOP cosponsors filed H.R. 2830, the Gun Rights and Marijuana (GRAM) Act, on Thursday, April 22. It introduces a brief clause to current federal law stating that “the term ‘unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance’ shall not include a person by reason of unlawful use or addiction to marijuana.”
Exemptions for Legal Cannabis Users
The bill would provide exemption solely to individuals who live in a state or territorial jurisdiction that allows adults to use marijuana and who do not break any local cannabis laws. Under the exemption, marijuana will remain a Schedule I controlled substance, and users of any other drug would continue to be prohibited from possessing firearms.
Young, a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, states that “the federal government has no business unduly restricting responsible citizens from exercising their rights or restricting states from listening to their constituents and reforming marijuana laws.” He continues, “the GRAM Act bridges this gap. Given that it deals with both gun and marijuana rights, there really is something for those on both sides of the aisle to support.”
“When I was sworn into Congress, I took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States,” said Young in a press release. “That oath does not mean picking and choosing which Amendments to defend; it requires us as Members of Congress to protect the ENTIRE Bill of Rights,” he continues. “There are two main pillars that make this legislation important. First, it protects the Second Amendment for individuals seeking to exercise their Constitutional rights. It also defends the Tenth Amendment right of states to determine their own cannabis laws, as Alaska did in 2014.”
As of Thursday, the bill was marked as being referred to the House Committee on Judiciary.
Joining Young as cosponsors of the legislation are Representatives Brian Mast (FL-18) and Rodney Davis (IL-13). “The Constitution says nothing about marijuana but the Second Amendment clearly outlines every American’s right to bear arms, says Mast while David adds that “state-legal marijuana use should not be used as a pretext to bar individuals from purchasing or possessing firearms, which is a clear and well-defined Constitutional right.”
Americans are prohibited from owning firearms under current US law if they are “an illegal user of or addicted to any controlled substance,” as specified by the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Although routine screening of gun owners is not practiced by law enforcement, an ATF form for prospective owners includes the question “Are you an illegal user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic medication, or any other controlled substance?”
As lying on the form would constitute a felony, any marijuana user would have to drop dreams of gun ownership with the truth.
“Gun ownership is a significant part of Alaska’s culture and lifestyle. When my constituents chose to legalize adult-use marijuana, they were not surrendering their Second Amendment rights,” explained Young. “At a time when more individuals have been purchasing firearms for self-defense, sportsmanship, hunting, and countless other reasons, we have experienced a surge in state-level cannabis reforms.”
Second Amendment rights proponents in states that have legalized, or are considering legalizing cannabis for medicinal or adult use, are concerned about the existing federal provision. Case in point; Honolulu authorities sent letters to local medical marijuana patients in 2017, instructing them to “voluntarily surrender” their weapons. The department later retracted the request.
Another incident occurred last year, where the US Justice Department released a memo requiring all unlicensed gun buyers in Michigan to undergo federal background checks. It alleged that current practices had enabled “habitual marijuana users” and other ineligible individuals to purchase firearms illegally.
Controlled Substance Conundrum
The memo stipulated that while “possession and use of marijuana is not unlawful under Michigan law, Marijuana remains a ‘controlled substance’ under Federal law, and those using marijuana are prohibited from possessing or transporting a firearm.”
Young’s Republican party has often been at the forefront when it came to protecting the rights of legal cannabis users under the Second Amendment. Rep. Andy Mooney (R-KY) proposed a bill last year that would have harmonized state and federal legislation in a similar way, but only for medical marijuana patients.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), another Republican, reportedly planned to propose a similar bill to Young’s in 2018. No such bill was ever introduced, but it would have expanded Second Amendment rights to include recreational users, rather than just medicinal marijuana patients.
On the other side of the aisle are Democratic members of Congress working on legislation to completely legalize marijuana at the federal level, a move that would ostensibly lift the prohibition on marijuana consumers owning guns without explicitly addressing the issue.
Some such members are Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ); who have been working to articulate a bill on their end. Schumer issued a statement last week, stating that plans are to introduce and bring the bill to the floor “soon.” He then went on this week to say that he’s trying to garner the president’s support legalization while they draft the bill.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) recently announced that he intends to reintroduce his marijuana legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, which passed the chamber last year but died in the Senate under Republican power.
At the executive level, President Joe Biden remains opposed to legalization, as the White House press secretary reiterated on Tuesday. Although the president says he supports states having their own laws, he believes it can only be decriminalized and rescheduled at the federal level, and he needs more testing done before changing his mind.