Gun owners hoping to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon in weed-legal Colorado are facing a tough ultimatum from local sheriffs: give up your green, or give up your gun.
Depending on what Colorado county you live in, the application for a concealed carry permit asks whether or not the candidate uses cannabis. Those who answer ‘yes’ are finding out they’re being denied the permit.
Laurie Thomas, coordinator for the concealed handgun permitting program at the El Paso County sheriff’s office, explained:
“They either want to smoke marijuana or have a concealed weapons permit,” she says of those who apply. “Common sense. You have to have one or the other. You can’t do both.”
In Colorado, it’s the county sheriff who decides whether to issue, deny, or revoke concealed handgun permits.
In 2015, a Colorado group called Guns for Everyone made an unsuccessful attempt to gather enough signatures for a ballot initiative that would change the application process to allow lawful users of marijuana to obtain concealed carry permits for their handguns.
Two firearms instructors whose students kept asking about the marijuana issue launched the proposal. They’re currently working on how best to tackle the topic again this year.
“In Colorado the law states that you cannot be an illegal user of any narcotics under state and federal law,” says Issac Chase, a Colorado Springs firearms instructor and a co-founder of Guns for Everyone. “The goal of our campaign was to get rid of that language that said federal law.”
Medical and recreational marijuana consumption is legal in Colorado, but the federal ban on cannabis is the sticking point for local sheriffs whose duty is to uphold the law.
In fact, there may even be a legal issue with simply owning a firearm and smoking marijuana, not just in terms of seeking a permit for concealed carry.
According the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, it’s not legal to have a gun and smoke cannabis, even in a state where cannabis has been legalized.
When buying a gun, purchasers have to fill out a form from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, which asks, “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana…or any other controlled substance?”
That’s federal paperwork, and marijuana is illegal under federal law. However, its legality in Colorado has led some cannabis-using Coloradans who buy guns to believe that they’re doing so under the interpretation that they’re not “unlawful” users.
The federal agency, however, doesn’t see it that way.
“Under federal law marijuana is still a controlled substance, meaning that people who are marijuana users are not able to lawfully possess a firearm regardless of the state laws,” says Lisa Meiman, a spokesperson for the ATF’s Denver field division.