People walk past the Weed World store on March 31, 2021, in Midtown New York (AFP / Kena Betancur)

No hidden gun control policy in New York marijuana legislation

Copyright AFP 2017-2022. All rights reserved.

Facebook posts claim that recently signed New York state legislation legalizing recreational marijuana includes a back-door policy barring cannabis users from purchasing guns. This is false; there was no mention of firearms in the bill, and although federal law prohibits marijuana use by gun owners, experts say this restriction is unlikely to impact firearm owners in the state.

“Hey NYers…..don’t get too excited about pot being legalized. It’s a trick…” warns an April 2, 2021 Facebook post later shared as a screenshot.

“If you purchase pot using your NYS ID, you will be disqualified from purchasing firearms. Little back door gun control policy included in the bill,” it claims.

Screenshot of a Facebook post taken on April 9, 2021

The posts were shared thousands of times in the days following the signing of New York state’s bill legalizing recreational marijuana.

The claim is circulating as President Joe Biden attempts to address US gun violence with executive measures including a proposed rule to stop the proliferation of “ghost guns,” tighter regulations on arm braces designed to stabilize AR-15 pistols, and increased support for agencies tackling community violence. 

A series of mass shootings in 2021, including in Georgia, Colorado, California and Texas, have stirred public debate over gun control and violence involving firearms in the United States.

However, the claim that the New York legislation targets gun buyers is inaccurate.

A text search of the bill shows no reference to “guns,” “firearms,” or “weapons,” nor to the singular of those words.

Brad Usher, a spokesman for the office of New York state senator Liz Krueger, who sponsored the bill, told AFP that the posts are “inaccurate.” 

“While there are federal consequences for cannabis use under the Gun Control Act of 1968, Cannabis dispensaries will not be sharing their customer base with the federal government, so using an I.D. is not going to cause those consequences,” Usher said by email.

“In addition, since the bill eliminates most offenses for cannabis, individuals are less likely to be identified as cannabis users due to arrest records.”

Federal law

In the comments on the April 2 Facebook post, its author says that a form that must be filled out in order to purchase a firearm asks prospective buyers whether they are unlawful users of marijuana and other drugs. 

Screenshot of the ATF Form 4473 taken on April 9, 2021

ATF Form 4473 is a federal document unrelated to New York’s marijuana legalization, and predates it.

Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at the State University of New York, Cortland who specializes in gun control, confirmed Usher’s explanation, pointing to the Gun Control Act of 1968, which established federal rules for gun ownership. 

“It doesn’t take much to set off the flames of paranoia and criticism of New York’s gun laws since we have tough gun laws,” he said by phone.

According to him, marijuana use is “still a violation of federal law, because federal drug laws haven’t changed, and the 1968 Gun Control Act has a provision saying that drug use, including marijuana, bars a person from having a gun.”

However, since marijuana will no longer be illegal in New York, there would not be consequences for marijuana use by gun buyers. 

“Basically, in practice it will not be an issue,” Spitzer said, especially because law enforcement will no longer be keeping record of marijuana usage.

“If a cop stops you and you have marijuana, but he lets you go, he doesn’t write you up, file paperwork or anything else, then there would be no way for your name to be caught up in the restriction that appears in the federal law.”

As a general rule, marijuana legalization has not had an impact on gun ownership, David Kennedy, a criminal justice professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, said by phone.

“States all over the country have been allowing legal use of medical marijuana. Several of them have legalized all recreational use of marijuana by adults and that has had no impact whatsoever on either state or federal practices around gun practices and ownership.”