Weapons and Weed: Legal marijuana causing confusion among gun control advocates

Local News

PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Right now in Illinois, the rules for people to legally own a gun and use recreational marijuana are hazy, and people are worried they must choose weapons or weed.

According to Illinois State Rifle Association Executive Director Richard Pearson, more gun owners and dealers have called the lobbyist group since the state legalized marijuana in January.

“It’s very confusing,” said Pearson. “You have to realize the cannabis law violates federal law.”

The Land of Lincoln became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana, but gun advocates do not believe the legislation is bulletproof. Cannabis is still considered illegal by the federal government.

“It’s a good way to get yourself in trouble if you are not very, very careful,” said Pearson. “And you might get yourself in trouble if you are careful anyway.”

In order to purchase a weapon from a licensed dealer, applicants must complete paperwork for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF — a federal form. It asks if the buyer is “an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana.” However, the document also warns that “marijuana remains illegal under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside.”

The warning is enough to stop federally licensed gun dealers from making the sale.

“If a gun dealer would ever sell one to [a person] that marks that they are a habitual user or addicted or whatever the question might be that day, they could go to jail for that,” said Pearson. “So they are not going to do that.”

When asked if the ATF would make exception for Illinois residents who own a FOID card and admit to legal marijuana use, a representative simply emailed the federal law stating it remains illegal.

Regarding the purchase/possession of firearms, the Gun Control Act (GCA) prohibits any person who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802)) from shipping, transporting, receiving or possessing firearms or ammunition under Federal law18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3).  As a matter of federal law, an individual who is a current user of marijuana is an unlawful user of a controlled substance under 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(3), even if that individual’s state has enacted legislation purporting to authorize marijuana use for medical or recreational purposes, and regardless of whether that individual has received a state-issued card purporting to authorize medical or recreational marijuana use.

Shennell Antrobus, Special Agent
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

“We need to make this clear that those using cannabis lawfully in the state of Illinois are not going to be precluded,” said Attorney Jeff Hall of the Peoria area. His legal concentrations include FOID card reinstatement, and he has worked on cannabis legislation on behalf of the Illinois State Bar Association in Springfield.

Hall is worried legal marijuana users might feel pressured to lie on the federal form, which carries up to 5 years in prison, and he has a similar issue with the Illinois State Police website for Firearms Owners Identification card applications. Though the website makes exception for state-issued medicinal card holders, it lists a similar question to the ATF form, which also references federal law.

“I have not within the past year (preceding the date of this application) used or been addicted to any controlled substance or narcotics in violation of state or federal law.”

Eligibility Rules for a Firearm Identification Card, according to Illinois State Police website

“If you are one of these excited people that waited in line on Jan. 1, and four days later you want to apply for your FOID,” posed Hall. “You cannot answer that question legally and honestly if you went and used that cannabis that you legally bought under the state laws.”

Illinois State Police posted its policy on Facebook, saying, the agency “will not revoke Firearm’s Owner’s Identification Cards based solely on a person’s legal use of adult use cannabis.”

However, the statement said “ISP will revoke FOID cards where it is demonstrated that an individual is addicted to or is a habitual user of cannabis.” But how will either of those terms be determined?

Illinois State Police has not yet responded to a request by WMBD for comment.

Until then, there is certainly confusion about the definitions of addiction and habitual user. One state law, basically defines an addict as someone whose usage becomes a danger to themselves or others.

“Addict” means any person who habitually uses any drug, chemical, substance or dangerous drug other than alcohol so as to endanger the public morals, health, safety or welfare or who is so far addicted to the use of a dangerous drug or controlled substance other than alcohol as to have lost the power of self control with reference to his or her addiction. 

Illinois Controlled Substance Act (720 ILCS 570/102) (from Ch. 56 1/2, par. 1102)

Bryan Hinman, Associate Director of Court Treatment at Chestnut Health Systems, believes too many questions remain regarding marijuana addiction. The Bloomington-based facility offers behavioral health and human services including treatment for alcohol and drug addiction.

“Even in the research, a common issue is how do you define a heavy user?” said Hinman. “There’s some research out there that defines a heavy user as someone who smokes at least once per day. ”

Hinman suggests there is insufficient research on marijuana addiction due to the drug’s federal illegality. According to Hinman, research suggests marijuana addiction is possible, but a physical withdrawal is not guaranteed.

“It depends on defining ‘addiction,'” said Hinman. “So if you are defining it as Severe Substance Abuse Disorder. Then yes, it can be an addiction.” 

“Substance Use Disorders (SUD’s) affect millions of Illinoisans. They are defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Five (DSM-V). Substance use disorders occur when the repeated use of alcohol and/or drugs causes significant clinical and functional impairment, such as health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home.”  

Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse

However, research shows less than 9 percent of the general population meets diagnosis of SUD, according to Hinman.

“So it’s a relatively small number,” said Hinman.

Hinman thinks determining addiction by specific amounts might also be problematic, because of the wide variety of consumption methods. Ultimately, he argues there should be more discussion to determining the state’s definition of addiction.

“I’m not particularly for marijuana use,” said Pearson. “But those who want to are putting themselves at risk quite frankly.”

There is a way for marijuana users to purchase weapons with less anxiety, according to Pearson. No such question exists on the Illinois State Police Firearm Transfer portal, where any person who is not a federally licensed firearm dealer can sell or transfer the firearm to another FOID cardholder.

For now, Hall will  encourage clients, who are marijuana users, to wait to apply for their FOID cards. But he believes clients with their FOID cards should have less to worry about because there should be no reason for state police to look at their file unless he or she is red flagged for some reason.

Another concern among gun owners is if marijuana dispensaries will share personal information and whether that information will be made available to Illinois State Police to deny the right to purchase of a firearm. However, the state law prohibits dispensaries from retaining or sharing personal information.

Identification; false identification; penalty. (a) To protect personal privacy, the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation shall not require a purchaser to provide a dispensing organization with personal information other than government-issued identification to determine the purchaser’s age, and a dispensing organization shall not obtain and record personal information about a purchaser without the purchaser’s consent. A dispensing organization shall use an electronic reader or electronic scanning device to scan a purchaser’s government-issued identification, if applicable, to determine the purchaser’s age and the validity of the identification. Any identifying or personal information of a purchaser obtained or received in accordance with this Section shall not be retained, used, shared or disclosed for any purpose except as authorized by this Act.

The Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act: Section 10-20.

Both Pearson and Hall want more clarity for their clients, and until that happens they are worried the police wield too much power at their discretion.

“I want to trust them,” said Hall, who still believes the state’s legal marijuana legislation is beneficial. “But I think that the only way to ensure that wouldn’t happen is to codify it in law.”

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