Think potheads don’t have rights? Try taking their guns away.
This won’t be a major talking point during the rhetoric rollout at this week’s annual convocation of the National Rifle Association here in Big D. The headliners probably won’t bring it up.
But it will be a key discussion point on Friday, during a daylong law seminar billed as the “largest gathering of Second Amendment attorneys in the country.” Marijuana-use prohibitions for gun owners is listed as a “hot topic in firearms law.”
As long as we’re thinking in comic-book caricatures, which is the only way a lot of us ever think, these seem to be non-emulsifying elements: lazy, flag-burning, scofflaw, R.Crumb stoner hippies and dentally challenged, bug-eyed, redneck gun nuts. Political opposites, right?
Well, no, as as our Byzantine pastiche of state and federal law reveals. Efforts in some states to deny gun sales or even confiscate firearms from legally sanctioned medical marijuana users have been met with that rarest of commodities, bipartisan blowback.
In January, Pennsylvania regulators performed an abrupt about-face after announcing that the registry of card-holding legal medical marijuana users would be shared with law enforcement databases, and thus flagged should card holders try to buy guns.
And there was a furor last fall in Honolulu, when the local police department sent letters to about 30 gun owners who also hold cards for medical marijuana use, demanding that they turn in their firearms. After a joint outcry (har!) from the weed and gun lobbies, the department backed off the confiscation plan.
As a practical matter, this is an interesting issue because it highlights the regulatory confusion that reigns in an atmosphere of political absolutism that denies evolving social reality.
Federal law is almost comically oblivious to that reality. The Drug Enforcement Administration lists marijuana as a Schedule I substance with “no currently accepted medical use” and thus more dangerous than such Schedule II counterparts as cocaine, methamphetamine and morphine.
This is underscored on the federal form required for all gun purchases. Question (e.) on the official Firearms Transaction Record asks: “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana … or any other controlled substance?” This is immediately clarified by a boldface warning that federal law considers recognizes no kind of user other than unlawful.
Which, of course, is a direct contradiction to the laws in 30 states — Texas included — that permit at least some form of legal marijuana consumption.
In Texas, the scales aren’t exactly balanced. It’s easy to anticipate that our state might well be the first in the nation to, say, allow firearms sales from vending machines or roadside kiosks or drive-through gun huts.
Marijuana use, however, is narrowly permitted and tightly controlled. Under a recently enacted law, a single form of low-THC oil may be prescribed for a small subset of patients suffering from severe epilepsy — if they have failed to respond to other specific medications, and if they have authorization from two doctors listed on a state registry (there are four such doctors in Dallas County, two in Tarrant, none in Denton or Collin).
Yet the mere fact that it is legal, even in these very limited instances, is evidence that the states are pretty far out in front of the feds on this particular issue. Many states have far more liberal “medical use” restrictions, and an increasing number are going to the it’s-your-own-business “recreational” standard.
It’s hard to specify in verifiable numbers how many pot-smoking gun owners there are out there, but there have to be a lot.
There’s no national database for who owns a gun — that would violate existing law — but surveys suggest between 30 percent and 40 percent of American adults own at least one firearm. Surveys also find that more than half of all American adults have at least tried marijuana — and an estimated 44 percent are occasional or regular users.
To suppose there’s no overlap there is as statistically improbable as an asteroid landing in your backyard. There are few more popular demons in the American political imagination (depending on where you stand) than gun owners … or pot smokers.
Yet the statistical reality is that your neighbor, your kid’s soccer coach, the guy who does your taxes, may be one or the other. Or neither. Or both.
All this adds up to is that we don’t know one another as well as we think, and we’re awfully quick to misjudge general behavior according to our own personal preferences or beliefs.
But it also says that with numbers this big, there has to be overlap. And that means there’s room for legal evolution even on our most fiery white-hot-button issues — in both regulatory and liberalizing terms.
Our laws should reflect reality. Reality is the one thing we don’t get to make up.
Jacquielynn Floyd is a columnist for The Dallas Morning News.