Pubdate: Tue, 05 Apr 2016
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2016 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Dj Summers, Alaska Journal of Commerce


Sen. Lisa Murkowski picked up an issue Lower 48 states with legal 
marijuana still haven't resolved in a March 2 letter to U.S. Attorney 
General Loretta Lynch.

The letter asks Lynch to re-examine federal gun regulations 
inconsistent with state laws where marijuana is legal. Along with 
banking -- federal laws prohibit bank involvement with marijuana 
businesses -- gun ownership exemplifies a schism between federal and 
state laws concerning cannabis.

A 2011 directive from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and 
Explosives specifically prohibits federal firearms dealers from 
selling to marijuana users, both medical and recreational. Private 
gun sales between individuals, which are not federally controlled, do 
not have this restriction.

As of December 2015, Alaska had 730 federal firearms license holders, 
about one for every 1,000 residents. According to a Columbia 
University study released in June 2015, Alaska also has the highest 
per capita gun ownership in the nation; 61.7 percent of Alaskans own 
one or more firearms.

Alaska has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the nation with 
an entrenched hunting culture both for recreation and subsistence 
purposes. Alaskans are not required to have a concealed carry permit 
so long as they are a legal owner under state and federal law, but 
they must apply for a concealed carry permit if they wish to carry in 
states where Alaska has reciprocity agreements.

Alaska also has more than 1,000 medical marijuana cardholders. This 
number, however, is an inaccurate metric for marijuana usage, as 
state laws have not allowed for marijuana cultivation or distribution 
until recreational use was approved by a voter initiative in 2014.

According to a 2014 Washington Post report, 25 percent of 18- to 
25-year-olds and 11 percent of those older than 25 in Alaska consumed 
marijuana within the past month.

Murkowski didn't support the voter initiative, which legalized 
recreational marijuana in Alaska in 2014, but she views the 
inconsistency as a states' rights and safety issue.

"If the cultivation, manufacture, and use of marijuana and marijuana 
products is to be lawful in Alaska," the letter reads, "it must be 
undertaken consistent with the regulatory scheme, and proactive 
efforts should be taken to reconcile inconsistent federal laws with 
more permissive state laws."

A federal letter to states where marijuana is legal, called the Cole 
Memorandum, gives some guidance, but does not address firearm possession.

Murkowski refers to the letter from ATF Assistant Director of 
Enforcement Programs and Services Arthur Herbert that was distributed 
to federal firearms dealers on Sept. 21, 2011.

The Herbert letter, Murkowski notes, specifically denies firearms 
possession to medical marijuana cardholders.

"Any person who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of 
whether his or her state has passed legislation authorizing marijuana 
use for medicinal purposes, is an unlawful user of or addicted to a 
controlled substance, and is prohibited by federal law from 
possessing firearms or ammunition," Herbert's directive reads.

The bureau requires federal firearms license dealers to have their 
customers fill out Form 4473. This tracks address, date of birth, 
government-issued photo ID, and a federal background check, along 
with recording the serial number of the firearm being purchased.

One question asks: "Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, 
marijuana, or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug or any other 
controlled substance?"

Lying on a Form 4473 is a federal felony, punishable by up to five 
years in prison. Most individual firearms sellers are not federally 
licensed, but gun dealers and sporting goods stores are.

Murkowski fears lawful marijuana users will turn into a class of 
criminals by answering "no" on the portion of federal firearms licensing forms.

Gun buyers with medical marijuana cards, or even recreational users, 
would be opening themselves to criminal charges by providing a false 
statement in order to buy the gun.

Murkowski wants the federal government to revisit the rules.

"It is my judgment that denying Americans the personal Second 
Amendment right to possess firearms as articulated by the Supreme 
Court in (District of Columbia v. Heller) for mere use of marijuana 
pursuant to state law is arbitrarily overbroad and should be narrowed."

Murkowski's office has not yet received a reply from the U.S. 
Attorney General's office.

Other states have battled with medical and recreational marijuana 
usage's incompatibility with federal gun laws, which the National 
Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws has considered one of the 
top priorities for lawmakers post-legalization.

So far, none have successfully changed the effects of the ATF's 
cannabis usage prohibition, though some have changed state laws.

In Montana, which legalized medical marijuana in 2004, state Attorney 
General Steve Bullock and the Montana congressional delegation 
roundly objected to the 2011 Herbert letter.

Montana's legislators looked for a fix. In 2014, Sen. John Walsh, 
D-Mont., tried to pass a bill that would bar any federal funds from 
being used to prosecute gun owners based on their status as medical 
cardholders. The bill failed.

In Colorado, the Colorado Campaign for Equal Gun Rights tried to put 
a measure onto the November 2016 ballot that would bar Colorado 
sheriffs from refusing concealed carry permits to marijuana users. 
The campaign failed to collect the necessary signatures to put the 
issue onto the 2016 ballot.

In 2013, Illinois passed a law allowing medical marijuana users to 
possess firearms, though a couple years later the state said it 
inadvertently sent out revocation letters to a few firearms permit 
holders with medical marijuana cards.

In Willis v. Winters, a 2011 Oregon Supreme Court case, it was ruled 
that the "state law requires sheriffs to issue concealed gun licenses 
without regard to whether the applicants use medical marijuana."

This ruling means Oregon sheriffs are required to issue concealed 
carry permits to medical marijuana users, and the U.S. Supreme Court 
declined to hear the state's appeal in what advocates celebrated as a 
victory for gun rights and medical marijuana users.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom