Marijuana is legal in NJ but could cost gun owners
TRENTON – New Jersey now lets people legally buy marijuana by choice, and it must grudgingly allow more residents to legally carry guns due to a Supreme Court ruling.
But if the same person does both, they could find themselves in trouble.
Federal law still treats cannabis as a dangerous Schedule I drug, despite what New Jersey and other states say. Under federal law, therefore, it remains illegal for someone to possess a gun if they are an unlawful user of narcotics, even if it’s used for medical purposes.
Bill Caruso, who leads the cannabis law group as a partner at the Archer law firm, said he hasn’t heard of someone running into legal issues with a firearm because they bought legal marijuana but that it’s a legitimate concern.
“Firearms permits and cannabis never a mix, medical or otherwise,” Caruso said. “In practical legal terms, yes, the use of cannabis of any type disqualifies you from a federal firearms permit. That’s generally the viewpoint.”
Caruso said it’s “particularly troubling” for medical marijuana patients because to be eligible, a person registers with the state.
But now that marijuana can be purchased by any adult for recreational use, they’re not on a list for that – unless they pay with a credit card or sign up for a dispensary’s affinity program for discounts or frequent-shopper offers.
“In the adult-use setting, there is no record of your transaction,” Caruso said.
Most transactions at a dispensary are handled in cash due to concerns in the banking industry about interacting in a business the federal government doesn’t see as legitimate. People can pay with credit, and some parts of the marijuana industry have their own credit-card system.
“But who’s got access to those credit card records? The ATF isn’t just seeing credit card records on a whim,” Caruso said. “If someone reported you, absolutely that could be investigated, and by the way, a drug test would show it. So, there are concerns.”
'Bang or bong'
Eatontown-based gun-rights lawyer Evan Nappen has discussed the topic a few times on his Gun Lawyer podcast and puts it this way: “Bang or bong, you can’t have both.”
“A lot of folks really find it hard to believe that something that is sanctioned and lawful by the state still screws you out of your gun rights at the federal level,” Nappen said.
Nappen said marijuana legalization in New Jersey could still benefit gun owners by reducing the number of invasive car searches by police that instead turn up guns that aren’t being handled or transported in accordance with New Jersey’s strict laws.
But he said unless federal law is changed, marijuana use by gun owners remains prohibited.
“This is a way to lose your Second Amendment rights because of marijuana,” Nappen said. “And as it becomes legal, it can set a trap for the unsuspecting gun owner who thinks, ‘Hey, marijuana is now legal. Maybe I’ll try it.’ And you go to the dispensary to try it. You may very well burn yourself right out of your gun rights for doing it.”
Caruso said a change in federal law could be coming. He said that if Republicans take control of both houses of Congress in this year’s midterm election, he thinks they might approve a decriminalization bill – not full legalization with "restorative justice" spending – and send it to President Joe Biden in 2023.
Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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