« Rounding up some drug war stories and commentary | Main | US Sentencing Commission schedules public hearing to consider retroactivity of amendments to criminal history rules »

June 28, 2023

"Subtracting 420 from 922: Marijuana Legalization and the Gun Control Act After Bruen"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Nicholas Goldrosen now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Numerous states have legalized marijuana for medical and recreational use.  Nonetheless, federal law prohibits users of marijuana, which remains illegal federally, from possessing firearms.  I interrogate this legal tension from two angles. First, this paper brings empirical evidence to this conversation: Does legalizing marijuana lead to more gun deaths?

It doesn’t.  This article analyzes the effect of recreational and medical marijuana legalization on gun homicides, suicides, and deaths as well as on gun prevalence, gun purchasing, and federal gun prosecutions.  I combine administrative data from the National Vital Statistics System, National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and United States Sentencing Commission for the period from 2010 through 2020.  To estimate a causal effect, I employ a difference-in-differences method with staggered treatment timing from Callaway and Sant’Anna (2021) to compare states that have legalized marijuana to those that have not yet legalized marijuana but will during the study period. There is no evidence of a statistically significant treatment effect of either recreational or medical marijuana legalization on firearms deaths, homicides, or suicides.  Additionally, there is no evidence that legalization causes greater firearms sales or prevalence, or that the federal gun prohibition for marijuana users deters gun killings post-legalization.

Secondly, this regulation has received new scrutiny after the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in NYSRPA v. Bruen, under which firearms regulations must be justified by consistency with “this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”  Courts have come to conflicting answers on whether the prohibition on gun ownership by marijuana users accords with the Second Amendment under Bruen.  I therefore survey three potential legal paths for resolving the conflict between state legalization of marijuana and federal gun laws.  First, legislators might directly amend the Gun Control Act to allow for gun possession by some or all marijuana users.  Second, legislators might reform marijuana’s status within the Controlled Substances Act more broadly.  Finally, an uncertain future for the controlled-substance-user prohibition exists in the courts post-Bruen.  The Bruen decision’s unworkable tests do not clearly support either upholding or striking down this ban. If anything, the interpretation of the federal ban on gun possession by marijuana users under Bruen highlights the impracticability of its test.  Amongst these solutions, I argue that broader Controlled Substances Act reform is the likeliest to provide consistency while not harming public safety.

June 28, 2023 at 09:55 AM | Permalink


Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB