Ohio’s off-year elections won’t feature any high-profile statewide races or legislative campaigns, but turnout is still expected to be robust given two initiatives on the ballot dealing with hot-button issues; abortion and legalizing marijuana.
Issue 1 would amend the state constitution and enshrine the right to “make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” while Issue 2 would legalize marijuana for recreational use across the state; opening the door to retail sales and allowing residents to both possess personal amounts of marijuana as well as growing their own stash.
It’s likely that both ballot measures will be approved, even in ruby-red Ohio, which re-elected Repuiblican Mike DeWine last year with a whopping 62% of the vote, and Second Amendment advocates are reminding gun owners that even if the law is changed, they still run the risk of federal prosecution by toking up while possessing guns.
… in order to purchase a gun or ammunition in Ohio, Form 4473 of the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives must be filled out, under penalty of perjury, including the fifth question on the first page that some may pause at: “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?”
Answering yes automatically disqualifies you from purchasing a gun. Lying on the form and getting caught is a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison.
“They’re bound by federal law,” to answer honestly, said attorney Sean Maloney of the Buckeye Firearms Association, a gun rights advocacy group.
But how often does prosecution happen if you don’t?
“Very few people are ever prosecuted for perjuring themselves by lying on that form,” said Maloney.
Maloney won’t give advice for those filling out forms. But he concedes that “mental gymnastics” can play a role when doing so for those who use marijuana either as prescribed by a doctor or, if Issue 2 passes, for recreation.
“I can say I’ve smoked my last joint yesterday and I won’t do so in the future. And it’s truthful at the moment,” he said.
Unless, of course, you write a memoir documenting your habitual drug use at a time when you bought a gun, only to have your significant other take it from you and throw it in a trash can. At that point, you very well could face federal charges, though if you’re the son of a sitting president you’ll likely first be offered the opportunity to enter into a pre-trial diversion rather than go to prison upon conviction.
Though the odds of federal prosecution may be low, Maloney and other Second Amendment advocates believe it’s time to change federal law. If Ohio voters approve Issue 2 on Election Day, 24 states (fewer than the number of permitless carry states, for the record) will have legalized recreational marijuana, while medical marijuana is available to one degree or another in 38 states. Maloney says it’s time for the federal government to catch up to the reality on the ground across the country.
“It doesn’t make sense to put people in a quandary,” he said.
About one in seven Ohioans have said they’ve used marijuana in the past year. More than 600,000 firearms were purchased by Ohioans legally last year, according to Safehome.org.
“It’s kind of a trap for a lot of people,” said Dean Rieck, executive director of the Buckeye Firearms Association. “The Food and Drug Administration does not acknowledge any benefit to medical marijuana.”
Rieck said with FDA approval of pot for therapeutic use, Congress, along with other federal agencies including ATF might follow, and eventually there would be uniform agreement, less confusion and fewer restrictions for gun owners.
Gun dealers withholding the sale of weapons “should be about whether you’re a violent felon, not about who you are or what kind of drugs you use,” he said. “We’re concerned that if you’re a user (of marijuana) that that shouldn’t bar you from owning a gun.”
Maloney notes that powerful narcotics that have been approved by the FDA, like fentanyl, aren’t a disqualifying factor in purchasing a firearm as long as the drug was prescribed by a doctor, so the idea that banning pot smokers from owning guns is somehow about ensuring only teetotaling or stone-cold-sober adults have access to their Second Amendment rights is nonsensical. Just like operating heavy machinery, it’s never a good idea to actively mix drugs and guns, but I see no reason why someone shouldn’t be able to both responsibly imbibe and own firearms without fearing federal prosecution.
I don’t know how Maloney or Rieck feel about legalization overall, but I agree with them that if the state does take that step then there shouldn’t be any corresponding loss of civil rights for those who choose to partake. Ultimately, that change has to come from Washington, D.C. and not the states. Given the sheer ineptitude of our current political class, not to mention the political infighting that keeps most Democrats from doing anything seen as pro-gun and most Republicans from casting a vote that could be seen as pro-drug use, that could be a long time coming.