Ask a Weed Lawyer: Can I Grow Weed and Own a Gun?

If the cops come in, that weapon could really shoot you in the foot.

John Bussman is a criminal defense attorney in Orange County, California. He is an expert on marijuana law, a member of the NORML Legal Committee, and a longtime supporter of drug policy reform.

Q: What are the legal implications of keeping a gun in the house if I grow weed?

Depending on the state, possession of a firearm while engaged in illegal drug activity may be treated as a distinct crime, or else as an “enhancement” that could significantly increase the defendant’s prison sentence upon conviction.

Even if marijuana is legal in your state (or if you’re licensed to cultivate medically), federal law prohibits users of illegal drugs from possessing firearms. The feds still consider marijuana to be illegal to grow, use or possess for any purpose. Accordingly, marijuana users are federally prohibited from owning guns, regardless of weed’s legal status in their home state.

In 2011, the ATF issued a memo affirming the Justice Department’s position that it is illegal for anyone with a medical marijuana card to own or possess firearms and ammunition. A violation can land the offender in federal prison for 5 to 10 years.

Image via Rayjgadd/VSCO

Federal mandatory minimum sentences can lead to absurd results in criminal cases. There have been several headline-grabbing examples in recent years wherein a small time weed dealer receives a harsher federal sentence than a murder because the weed dealer was armed during the commission of his crime.

In Riverside, California, a few weeks ago, a man called the local police to report that his home had been burglarized. When cops arrived to investigate, they discovered evidence that the homeowner was a medical marijuana user. Police then confiscated the man’s gun collection—since they determined that he was federally prohibited from possessing the weapons. He’s unlikely to face criminal charges, but he will probably forfeit thousands of dollars' worth of property.

Federal courts are grappling with the issue now. Conflicting opinions have recently come out of a few different federal districts regarding the 2nd Amendment and the rights of legal marijuana users. The Supreme Court could eventually turn the entire law on its head. Bi-partisan groups of lawmakers have also introduced legislation in Congress several times over the past few years that would protect legal marijuana users from federal prosecution. So far, none of the measures have gained much traction.

I really, really want to be in the room when gun lobbyists sit down with drug policy reform activists to brainstorm over legislative strategy. Stay tuned to see how it all plays out.