Medical Marijuana & Firearms Licensing in Massachusetts

Notwithstanding the legalization of so-called “medical marijuana” in Massachusetts, marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. Sec. 812(b)(1). Schedule I substances such as marijuana, heroin, LSD, and Ecstasy cannot be sold, dispensed, prescribed or possessed under federal law and such actions are federal offenses.  Further, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ruled that marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the U.S., and lacks an accepted level of safety for use under medical supervision.

On Sept. 21, 2011 the U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), made it clear that medical marijuana users, including those doing so in compliance with state law, should not be allowed to purchase, possess or use firearms or ammunition.  ATF takes the position that selling firearms and/or ammunition to medical marijuana users violates federal firearms law.

Under 18 U.S.C. Sec. 922(g)(3), the ATF reminds firearms dealers, it is unlawful for any person who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance” (as defined by the Controlled Substances Act) to ship, transport, receive or possess firearms or ammunition.

Federal law further makes it a crime to sell or otherwise dispose of a firearm or ammunition to anyone knowing “or having reasonable cause to believe” that the person unlawfully uses a controlled substance, such as marijuana. 18 U.S.C. Sec. 922(d)(3). A federal regulation, 27 C.F.R. Sec. 478.11, allows an inference of current illegal use of a controlled substance to be drawn from “evidence of a recent use or possession of a controlled substance or a pattern of use or possession that reasonably covers the present time.”

According to the ATF, a person who uses medical marijuana, even in compliance with state law, should answer “yes” to question 11.e. (“Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?”) on ATF Form 4473, Firearms Transaction Record. And licensed firearms dealers may not transfer firearms or ammunition to them. Even if the person answers “no” to this question concerning the use of controlled substances, the ATF takes the position that it is a violation of federal law to transfer a weapon or ammunition to them if a person has “reasonable cause to believe” that they use medical marijuana, such as if they have a card authorizing them to possess medical marijuana under state law.

Based on the aforementioned principles of federal law, it is likely that licensing authorities in Massachusetts will use medical marijuana use to deny License to Carry Applications.