57.9% of Arkansans own guns, placing the state second in the nation for the highest rate of gun ownership behind Alaska. One of the most asked questions by Arkansas prospective medical cannabis patients is whether they can purchase firearms if they are medical cannabis cardholders. The simple answer is No. However, if you already own a gun, you are not required to surrender it. In this article I will explain the nuances of the Arkansas law regarding guns and medical cannabis cardholders. I thought it would also be interesting to discuss if this law is actually enforced.
In Arkansas, if you become a medical cannabis cardholder, you will not be able to purchase any firearms from a federally licensed gun dealer nor another other source of firearm sales. However, you are not required to surrender any guns in your possession. I know it seems unfair when you live in a legal medical cannabis state to be denied the same rights as every other gun owner in the country. But, because medical cannabis is still illegal on a federal level, Arkansan lawmakers must follow the Federal law. Once cannabis becomes federally legal, you will be able to purchase firearms.
The Federal Law: Firearms and Medical Cannabis Usage
A memo that was issued on September 21, 2011 by Arthur Herbert, the assistant director of Enforcement Programs and Services at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) said the following:
Federal law prohibits anyone who is an “unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance” from shipping, transporting, receiving or possessing firearms or ammunition. The law also bans anyone from selling or providing guns or ammunition to people they believe to be using the drug. In addition, because marijuana remains on the Controlled Substance List (CSA) as a Schedule I controlled substance, even in states where it has been legalized by State law, the Federal law supercedes State law.
If you are already a gun owner, you will be aware that when you buy a firearm from a federally licensed gun dealer, you are required to fill out the ATF Form 4473, the Firearms Transaction Record. You must answer Yes or No to Question 11.e which is as follows:
Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?
There is a warning on the form that even if you live in a legal cannabis state, the use or possession of cannabis is illegal under Federal law. It is also recommended that you do not commit perjury.
According to Little Rock attorney and public policy advocate David Couch, who authored the voter-approved amendment, Issue 6, to allow medical marijuana in Arkansas, medical cannabis cardholders will be violating Federal law if they purchase a firearm. If you go to a gun dealer, you would be committing perjury if you lied to purchase a gun. Technically, it is a crime to own a gun and possess a medical cannabis card. Anyone who violates this law may spend up to 10 years in prison and pay fines of up to $250,000.
Do I Have To Surrender My Firearms If I Get A Medical Cannabis Card?
The answer seems to be No. The 2nd Amendment protects gun ownership and you will not be required to give up your firearms. However, as I explained earlier in this post, you cannot legally purchase a new gun through a federally licensed dealer without having to perjure yourself on the ATF Form 4473.
According to Arkansas lawyers, law enforcement officers in the state disapprove of medical cannabis patients who they consider to be “illegal drug users.” But, if you already own a gun, regularly shoot guns and you wish to exchange or purchase guns through private dealers, you should be safe from prosecution as long as you avoid interacting with Arkansas police officers. BTW, when federal officials were asked if new Arkansas medical cannabis cardholders must surrender their guns, they dodged the question, deferring to Arkansas law enforcement.
How Often Is The Gun Law Enforced?
I am in no way condoning the violation of this law, but I thought it would be interesting to investigate how often this law is enforced.
The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendement, initially approved in 2014 and reapproved in every subsequent budget bill, prohibits the Department of Justice (DoJ) from using federal funds to prosecute medical cannabis cardholders in legal states. The level of federal enforcement is zero with no available funds to check the records of medical cardholders against those of firearm purchases even in a conservative state like Arkansas. In addition, there is very limited coordination between the federal and state authorities regarding Form 4473 which goes directly to the DoJ. The Arkansas State Police have nothing to do with the process nor is the Arkansas Department of Health sharing medical cardholders application information with the federal government.
I will leave you with the last word from Rep. Doug House, R-North Little Rock, who sponsored much of the marijuana legislation passed in the 2017 Arkansas legislative session. “If a client asked me, a lawyer, I would say never carry if you have a card.”
talkbusiness.net, Law Bans Gun Sales To Medical Marijuana Users, But Will It Be Enforced? Nov. 19, 2018
thv11.com, Can Medical Marijuana Card Holders Own Guns? May 16, 2019, Rolly Hoyt