DOVER, Del. — As lawmakers consider whether to legalize recreational marijuana use, some law enforcement officials are suggesting new steps to ensure that marijuana users in Delaware are prohibited from buying guns.
William Bryson, police chief for the town of Camden and chairman of the Delaware Police Chiefs Council, told a state task force studying legalization issues Wednesday that marijuana users should be required to have an endorsement or certification on their driver’s licenses indicating that they use pot.
Bryson said the proposal would help ensure that users of marijuana, whether for medical or recreational purposes, are in compliance with federal law, which prohibits marijuana users from owning guns.
“It would make sure that we are doing everything we can to ensure that prohibited people are not buying firearms in Delaware,” he explained after the meeting.
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Bryson noted that the federal background check form for gun purchases requires applicants to state whether they unlawfully use marijuana. It also warns them that marijuana use remains unlawful under federal law, regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized by a state.
As a result, a person who does not disclose on the background check form that he uses marijuana could be charged with a felony. On the other hand, an affirmative answer regarding marijuana use — or showing a gun store clerk a driver’s license identifying the person as a marijuana user — would likely result in a person failing the background check.
“Anything we can do to keep the persons that are prohibited from getting the firearms I think is a positive step,” Bryson said of his proposal, which he said arose from “brainstorming” with other police chiefs.
Meanwhile, other opponents of legalization told the task force that legalization would result in more impaired drivers and more deaths on Delaware’s roads. Legalization also could hamper the ability of police to determine after a traffic stop whether a driver might illegally be carrying drugs or guns, they said.
“If we have the odor of marijuana, it furthers our investigations,” said Lt. Tom Brackin, chairman of the Delaware State Troopers Association.
Brackin also warned that legalization would increase the risk of officers being injured or killed by impaired drivers while conducting traffic stops.
Critics of legalization also say relaxing marijuana laws sends the wrong message to children that drug use is OK.
Bryson noted that juvenile arrests for marijuana possession in Delaware have more than quadrupled since lawmakers decriminalized possession by adults of an ounce or less of pot for personal use in 2015.
“They think it’s fine for them to use it somehow, that’s the message they’ve gotten,” Bryson said.
Kate Bell, legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project, countered that youth use of marijuana has not increased in states that have legalized pot.
The task force is scheduled to meet again Jan. 4 before finalizing its report and recommendations by the end of February.