There are so few instances of the government seizing the firearms of American citizens, that in order to round out an “8 times the government took your guns” listicle, the magazine Guns and Ammo had to reach all the way back to the Battle of Athens, Tennessee in 1946. By and large, the federal government is doing its job to follow the Second Amendment — except for when it comes to medical marijuana patients.
As Leafly News reported, just three months after dispensaries opened for business in the state, the Honolulu police department recently sent letters to patients in the state’s medical-marijuana patient registry — ordering them to “voluntarily surrender” their guns and ammunition within 30 days, or face some consequences.
Turns out the Second Amendment to the Constitution has an exception for anyone addicted to drugs. Cannabis patients aren’t all necessarily addicted, of course, but for the purposes for possessing a firearm — this semantic doesn’t matter.
Any “unlawful user” of a controlled substance is not eligible to own a firearm, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) declared in a 2011 open letter. Since cannabis is a Schedule I substance, anyone using it is thus violating federal law. “Therefore,” the ATF wrote, “any person who uses or is addicted to marijuana… is prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition.”
As bizarre as this Constitutional carve-out is in the era of widespread marijuana legalization, when a vast majority of Americans and a majority of often gun-loving Republicans support legal cannabis, it is the law — and it survived a court challenge at the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
According to the Honolulu Star Advertiser, 30 medical marijuana patients in Oahu received letters telling them to surrender their firearms in November.
“Your medical marijuana use disqualifies you from ownership of firearms and ammunition,” read the letters given to Hawaii medical marijuana cardholders, signed by police Chief Susan Ballard. “A medical doctor’s clearance letter is required for any future firearms applications or return of firearms from HPD evidence.”
In this case, Ballard cites not federal law but state law — and, as Leafly reported, this appears to be the first instance in which a state agency has cited state law to seize firearms from state-legal cannabis users — though the argument and the result is the same, no matter which law is cited.
In theory, every marijuana user in the country could have their guns taken away, but Hawaii presents a unique opportunity. In other states, cannabis patients are able to wield weapons freely, because most states do not have a functional database of gun owners.
As Leafly noted, Hawaii is unique in that it keeps electronic records of both firearms owners and cannabis patients — which allows law enforcement to easily figure out who hits both sides of the Venn diagram, where they live, and what they possess.
Not every other state has such a list — and in states where recreational marijuana is legal, there would be no database, and so gun owners could shop at dispensaries and dab their days away after a visit to the shooting range in peace.
How serious the Honolulu police is about this — and whether they will go as far as to visit each cannabis-and-guns enthusiast’s home to see whether the weapons have been surrendered — remains to be seen.
The gun lobby appears to be silent on the issue. So does Congress. Despite the widespread support, efforts to reschedule cannabis have been stymied by a minority of powerful committee chairs — some of whom are the very same recipients of gun lobby cash.
In this way, Hawaii’s medical marijuana patients have come to know all about Big Government, in a way that gun users who are not medical marijuana patients cannot truly know.
TELL US, do you think medical marijuana users should be able to own guns?