Image via M&R Glasgow
As medical and recreational cannabis become increasingly legal across the United States, a decades-old piece of federal legislation banning drug users from owning and operating firearms has been creating complications for gun-owning marijuana consumers with greater frequency, while serving as one more tool for the criminal justice system to continue waging its War on Drugs.
Even before Hawaiian police sent letters to medical cannabis patients requesting their legally obtained guns (a policy which has since been rescinded), and lawmakers in Delaware started debating whether to block medical marijuana users from buying firearms, one Texas man found out the hard way that there can be very real consequences for violating the federal statute.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, Steven Boehle, a cannabis user suspected but not convicted of planning an attack against local police earlier this year, has served eight months of jail time and will be under probation for the next five years — all because he is a toking gun owner.
The incident unfolded when earlier this year, police in Austin, Texas got a tip from a confidential informant who told them that Boehle was planning to celebrate his 50th birthday by shooting at police. Law enforcement responded by raiding Boehle’s home and an offsite storage unit, finding at least 13 firearms, 1,100 bullets and 6 grams of cannabis.
The cops may have stopped an attack on their own, but prosecutors never found enough evidence to prove the alleged plot. Yet they ultimately didn’t need a smoking gun to convict Boehle, choosing instead to prosecute him only for the crime of owning guns while possessing cannabis.
Passed in 1993 as an amendment to the Gun Control Act of 1968, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act bans gun ownership by illicit drug users — language that has become problematic as more states legalize medical and recreational cannabis despite continued federal prohibition.
Without further cause to hold Boehle, prosecutors successfully pursued the weed and guns connection, denying Boehle bond and forcing him to serve 8 months in jail before the case was resolved with a punishment of probation.
For Bruce Margolin, a California attorney and executive director of Los Angeles NORML, the Texas case is the first such use of the 1993 Violence Prevention Act he can remember.
“Have not had that come to my attention in my 50 years of practice,” Margolin told the Statesman. “Seems very arbitrary, unjust, unfair to say people who use marijuana shouldn’t have the same rights as other people in our society to protect themselves and their families.”
Boehle’s case is complicated further by his reported history with epilepsy. Texas recently passed a law allowing residents to access and use low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana products for the specific treatment of epileptic seizures, but it’s not clear if Boehle’s probationary status will allow him to use the newly legal medicine.
So while Hawaii’s move to retract their cannabis-fueled gun grab has given momentary solace to firearm-owning stoners, with no end in sight to federal prohibition, the conflict between federal and state laws on cannabis as well as gun possession will continue to cause concern for Americans who believe ownership of both items is their legal right.