There's been considerable media attention given to California as marijuana for recreational purposes became legal on January 1, 2018. However, it's only recently become legal for medical purposes in some states, including Pennsylvania. Maryland, which has allowed medical marijuana for a while (with an approved medical professional's letter and a state-issued card), only recently opened its first dispensaries where people can go to obtain it.

With this increased legalization comes greater awareness of something that many people didn't know: It's illegal for a marijuana user to have a gun. That's because marijuana is prohibited under federal law, as is the ownership or purchase of guns by users of illegal drugs.

A Change in Enforcement of Federal Marijuana Laws

Under President Obama, the federal government largely let state laws regarding marijuana take precedence. However, the Department of Justice in the new administration has already taken steps to enforce the federal law that criminalizes it.

This may be one of the few issues that has brought marijuana legalization advocates and Second Amendment advocates together. As one Maryland state representative noted, people shouldn't have to choose between getting a legal remedy that helps their pain or other medical conditions and being able to protect yourself.

Gun Store Owners and Medical Marijuana Users Are Receiving Notifications

Gun store owners have been informed of the law by various state police agencies as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and instructed not to sell guns to people who acknowledge using marijuana. The question about having a medical marijuana card is beginning to appear on gun applications.

Pennsylvania State Police have also warned people getting their first medical marijuana cards: "It is unlawful under federal law for you to keep possession of any firearms which you owned or had in your possession prior to obtaining a medical marijuana card." Hawaii police notified residents with medical marijuana that they must surrender their firearms.

What Will the Future Bring?

The restriction on gun ownership was challenged in 2016 by a Nevada woman. A California federal appeals court ruled against her.

It remains to be seen when and if there are future challenges, as well as what steps will actually be taken to enforce the law -- particularly for people who already owned guns when they received their medical marijuana cards. In states like California and Colorado, a number of gun owners no doubt purchase marijuana legally. It is essential, however, to know the law and to seek experienced legal guidance if you or a loved one is facing criminal charges for violating it.