NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — You can use marijuana in Virginia, and you can own a gun – but you can’t do both at the same time.
“If you’re a normal, everyday Virginian who uses marijuana regularly, whether it’s lawfully or unlawfully, it doesn’t matter,” said attorney Billy Jackson. “You can’t possess a firearm because under federal law, as you point out, it’s still illegal to even possess marijuana.”
Do you use marijuana? It’s one of many “yes or no” questions on the ATF’s Form 4473. Filling out the form is a requirement for gun purchasers in every state across the nation. Lying on that form is a federal crime.
“The federal government still looks at marijuana usage the same as they look at heroin or cocaine,” said Portsmouth Sheriff Michael Moore. Moore was a special agent in the ATF who worked on drug and gun trafficking cases.
It’s a law federal prosecutors believe Deja Taylor broke when she bought a 9 millimeter handgun from Winfree Firearms in July 2022. Her 6-year-old son would use that gun to shoot his teacher, Abby Zwerner, at Richneck Elementary School six months later.
Taylor is charged with making a false statement when buying a gun and possessing a firearm while illegally using marijuana.
“That’s why we have these laws on the books,” Jackson said. “To hold these individuals accountable for both their own firearm possession and what flows, what kind of danger flows from that firearm possession. And here, that harm that flowed from it was just devastating.”
Jackson was a federal prosecutor for more than six years. He brought those same charges against many defendants, most often violent offenders he wanted to take off the streets quickly.
“It’s an easy charge to convict someone of,” Jackson said.
Smoking a joint one time isn’t enough to make buying a gun illegal. To prove those charges, Jackson said prosecutors must show that a person uses marijuana regularly.
“You have to have regular use. Daily use is preferred,” he said.
“You have to show contemporaneous use. That they used it within a day or two or a week of being caught with the firearm,” he added. “For example, the gold standard is when you find them with the firearm in one pocket and drugs in another.”
Medical marijuana users can’t own guns, either, according to federal law. Although Virginians can legally use marijuana to treat ailments like chronic pain and anxiety, it’s also illegal to use it for those purposes and own a gun.
“It’s spelled out pretty well, and it has a warning: The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under federal law regardless of if it’s been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreation purposes in the state where you reside,” Moore said of the ATF’s Form 4473.
“Hopefully in the very near future this form, and the federal government, will be able to address that change,” he continued.