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Guns, cannabis don’t mix under federal law

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Amid the celebrations in some quarters over the state’s legalization of recreational marijuana, let me be Debbie Downer and remind everyone that marijuana is still a controlled substance under federal law.

Not that the feds are going to come knocking down your front door while you enjoy a cannabis brownie watching “Dr. Who” reruns or “Buckaroo Banzai” for the 16th time.

But they could.

Legal recreational use of marijuana will raise some of the same conflicts with federal law that have been long-standing with legal medical cannabis.

Take guns, for example.

Nearly 50 percent of New Mexicans own a firearm, according to some studies.

But if you use marijuana regularly, simply owning a gun is a felony under federal law.

Buying one also is against federal law.

It says so right on the background application.

Question 11(e) asks:

“Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance? Warning: The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside.”

The applicant is asked to check “yes” or “no.”

If the answer is “yes,” you can’t buy a firearm from a licensed gun dealer.

Before signing the form, the firearm buyer is reminded:

“I also understand that making any false oral or written statement or exhibiting any false or misrepresented identification with respect to this transaction is a crime punishable as a felony under Federal law and may also violate State and/or local law.”

Violations of these federal laws are punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison.

Of course, enforcement of these laws could get a bit absurd.

More than 100,000 New Mexicans hold a current medical cannabis card issued legally by the state. If half of them own a firearm, that means 50,000 people could be subject to federal prosecution for illegally owning a firearm.

There have been a handful of federal cases since medical cannabis was legalized more than a decade ago involving federal crimes and medical marijuana users – the key issue in most of those cases was whether the card was expired at the time they were arrested.

Although a marijuana user is considered a “prohibited person” when it comes to possessing a firearm, people in this category are much lower on the federal law enforcement priority list than other “prohibited persons,” such as those with felony convictions, people in the country illegally and even foreigners visiting the country on various types of visas who also are prohibited from buying a gun under federal law.

The few hundred federal law enforcement agents and the 70 or so federal prosecutors in New Mexico are in no position to prosecute 50,000 people.

Nor are they so inclined.

Federal agents don’t talk on the record about such things, but the ones I talked to said they have more important things to worry about than the average medical marijuana user who owns a firearm.

They are far more interested in dealing with the violent crime that haunts our communities.

They are interested in arresting gun owners who have prior felony convictions – and they are making that type of arrests daily.

They are more interested in making cases against drug dealers peddling methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl or cocaine.

And they are interested in the intersection between guns and drugs.

A lot of the drug dealers seem to have armories in their living rooms to protect their contraband and their profits.

Some also trade guns for drugs. Some ship guns to Mexico for drugs.

Drug dealers in Albuquerque have told agents repeatedly that they need firearms for protection because the city is so dangerous.

Under the new state recreational marijuana law, anyone over age 21 will be allowed to start growing up to six marijuana plants and possess up to two ounces of cannabis outside their homes starting June 29.

Next year, recreational cannabis sales start at state-licensed dispensaries.

So if you’re a gun owner enjoying a cannabis brownie later this year, you might be violating federal law. But if you hear a knock on the door, it’s probably a UPS or FedEx delivery and not a federal agent.

UpFront is a regular Journal news and opinion column. Go to to submit a letter to the editor.