Rocky Mountain Pawn & Gun is confident about its own cultural identity. Before entering the shop – a palace of weaponry and camouflage gear – customers must pass a sign indicating that hippies should use the back door.
Then, in a glass display case inside the shop, another sign reads, “Federal Law Prohibits the sale of firearms to medical marijuana card holders.”
According to Chris Burnett, the store’s manager, the second sign isn’t a “hippies can’t have guns” joke, but an edict handed down from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a federal agency.
Burnett said the shop put up the sign after an ATF agent called Rocky Mountain Pawn & Gun and said “anyone who has a medical marijuana card will not pass a background check.”
The ATF did not respond to requests for comment.
Nearly 100,000 Coloradoans are licensed to use medical marijuana, which treats a range of ailments, including pain, insomnia, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite and muscle spasms.
Colorado law is in conflict with federal law, which criminalizes marijuana in all circumstances and by definition applies to the whole country.
Burnett said on the application to own a firearm, which is submitted to the federal government, the applicant is asked whether he or she has ever used illegal drugs, and because marijuana is illegal according to federal law, medical marijuana users must answer “yes” or commit a crime – meaning they are categorically disqualified from gun ownership.
While the gun lobby and the grass lobby are not intuitive political allies, this is the too-rare legal determination that has both in uproar.
“It’s difficult to explain it to people who we have to turn away, because they say, ‘I did this the right way, I got a permit,’ meanwhile, people who are buying it from their neighbors can still go out and by a gun,” Burnett said.
Though Burnett feared the federal government had amassed a database of medical marijuana users, against which the federal government would cross-check firearm applications as it putatively does felony convictions, Mark Sally, spokesman with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said that was impossible.
Only the state has that list, he said, and like all matters between doctors and patients, it is confidential.
Stuart Prall, a lawyer and marijuana advocate, said Rocky Mountain Pawn’s dilemma was indicative of the confusing state of the law regarding cannabis.
“I don’t think anybody should be denied rights, because people are taking one medicine as opposed to another medicine, and that’s true for parental rights, gun rights, any rights,” he said.
He said the unresolved and increasing contradictions in state law and federal law regarding marijuana meant that “it’s completely confusing to everybody.”