DENVER — Colorado was the first state to flout federal drug law with recreational marijuana sales. Now the state's voters may consider a ballot measure to allow pot smokers to carry a concealed firearm.
The "Colorado Campaign for Equal Gun Rights" is working to put a question on the November 2016 ballot to have Colorado ignore guidelines from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives about firearms and pot.
The measure would change state law to prevent sheriffs from denying concealed carry permits because of marijuana use. It's a new frontier in the marijuana wars, and one that has divided gun-rights activists.
"It's just ridiculous," said Edgar Antillon, one of the campaign organizers, who argues that firearms aren't kept from alcohol drinkers. "Somebody can get extremely drunk — Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and all week if they want — and they can still get a concealed carry permit."
He said he and his campaign partner, Isaac Chase, who run a firearm training business called "Guns For Everyone," are reaching out to gun rights groups for support, including those involved in last year's recall of two state senators who supported stricter firearm laws. Colorado organizers need more than 86,100 signatures to send the question to voters, and it's unclear whether Antillon's campaign will get enough support to launch.
The campaign would put Colorado again in direct conflict with federal guidelines about the drug.
In 2011, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent states a directive to keep guns away from marijuana users.
Earlier this year, Democratic Sen. John Walsh of Montana tried to change that, suggesting an amendment to bar federal prosecution of medical marijuana patients who own firearms. The amendment failed.
The matter divides gun enthusiasts. The president of the Colorado State Shooting Association said his members would oppose letting pot users carry guns.
"Federal law prohibits the possession and use of marijuana and its derivatives, and therefore its possession and use is incompatible with legal, responsible firearms ownership," said Tony Fabian, president of the Colorado State Shooting Association.
The County Sheriffs of Colorado are lining up against the idea, too.
But it's an open debate whether marijuana-using gun owners are more dangerous than others — or even how many people lose gun rights over pot.
Colorado keeps no data on the question. And the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which runs background checks for applicants and gun buyers, doesn't track how many are denied concealed carry permits because of pot. Neither does the County Sheriffs of Colorado.
People are asked, under oath, 14 questions on Colorado's concealed carry application, including whether the person has a restraining order, has been convicted of a felony, or has been treated for alcoholism within the past 10 years.
They're also asked if they're "an unlawful user of" marijuana "or any other controlled substance." The application is processed by county sheriffs.
The conflict has surfaced in other states that allow medical or recreational marijuana use, including Washington and Oregon.
In Washington state, forms for concealed weapons permits also ask if someone is an "unlawful user" of marijuana, without differentiating between state or federal law.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from an Oregon sheriff who had been prohibited from denying a concealed handgun license to a medical marijuana user. The decision meant the woman and other medical marijuana cardholders could obtain concealed handgun licenses.
Antillon, whose company provides the firearm training required for concealed carry applicants, said several students have told him they've been denied a permit because they use marijuana, either medically or recreationally. He said it's unjust that marijuana users are being "punished and can't defend their lives."
He argues that marijuana users can also be responsible firearm owners.
"It's going to be that initial battle of educating people. The challenge is people thinking that we're allowing people who are high to possess handguns," he said.