Backers of a proposed Colorado ballot initiative to allow marijuana users to obtain concealed carry permits for guns will appear at a hearing before the secretary of state’s office on Wednesday to finalize the measure, a last step before they can start gathering voter signatures to put the reform on November’s ballot.
The proposal is backed by Guns for Everyone, a Second Amendment advocacy group that offers free concealed carry classes to people in the state. It opposes gun control measures, including both barriers to firearm ownership and concealed carry.
Under federal law, being an “unlawful user” of a controlled substance, including marijuana, means a person cannot legally buy or possess a gun. The Colorado group’s proposal would remove state law’s reference to concealed carry permit applicants being denied if they’re federally ineligible to possess a gun. It would also add an explicit exception around marijuana use to a section prohibiting concealed carry permits for unlawful users of controlled substances.
Guns for Everyone’s co-founder, Edgar Antillon, sees marijuana as low-hanging fruit in the effort to roll back restrictions on guns more broadly, including restrictions around ownership for people who use illicit substances and people dishonorably discharged from the military.
“If we want to be successful, that’s one of the ways to be successful, is tackling the issues that are most guaranteed to win,” he said in a recent interview.
Antillon spoke to Marijuana Moment last week about the concealed carry proposal and its path to Colorado’s ballot this year after a similar prior effort failed to collect enough voter signatures to qualify. He said he’s optimistic, adding that support for the cross-issue reform seems to have grown in recent years among both gun-rights advocates and the cannabis community.
Below is a transcript of the interview, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Marijuana Moment: After the last hearing, with the Legislative Council Staff, can you just kind of walk us through what happens next, when you can start gathering signatures, stuff like that?
Edgar Antillon: Yeah, the next step is already in the books. The third of January, we’re going to be having our hearing with the secretary of state, and they’re the ones that give the final approval. Hopefully by next week we’ll start gathering signatures.
At this point you’ve been on local TV news and had other media coverage, Marijuana Moment included. What’s the range of responses you’re hearing back from people in Colorado?
We on purpose, believe it or not, have been pretty low key with this this time around. As of now, the response has been positive and I guess to a certain degree encouraging. So yeah, it’s been positive so far.
Colorado seems like an interesting political combination of blue and red, a state where this might get some good traction. I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but is that something you think about?
Colorado historically, we’ve been a purple state, right? People who are born and raised here, if we’re being honest with each other, we would never categorize Colorado as blue or red, but purple. It’s the state of the Libertarian Party. I think this is very much one of those issues that is a Colorado issue. It’s a freedom thing.
In terms of next steps, I know signature gathering can be a big obstacle and cost a lot of money. What’s the plan for that? How confident are you that that’s a stage you can get through?
For us, we learned from the first time that that’s probably the biggest obstacle, is the signature gathering. But I think this time we’ve got a better network than we had before. Most of the gun stores are more open to this idea than they were the first time. More dispensaries are open to this idea than they were the first time. So our network has grown. Overall, we’re pretty optimistic on the signature gathering.
I think that’s an interesting detail about gun stores and dispensaries. Was it just that they didn’t want to get involved in politics, or was it that they didn’t like being associated with the other issue?
It was so close to the legalization of marijuana that it was just a relatively new thing. And I think everybody was just not wanting to poke the bear, so to speak. And so now, many years removed from the legalization of marijuana, it’s almost a non-issue. It’s so normalized that people don’t even think of that as a bad thing.
On that note, I know your proposal is about concealed carry permits, but we’ve been seeing a lot more activity recently around the federal law barring gun ownership by people who use illegal drugs. Not only because of Hunter Biden’s federal case about possessing a gun while being a cocaine user, but, as you probably know, there are different circuit courts right now dealing with this question. What’s your take on what’s happening more broadly in terms of trying to make these two issues work together?
I mean, it’s always an encouraging thing when the conversation’s being had. If there’s no conversation being had, obviously nothing is moving forward—or in any direction. And we kind of half-jokingly talk about Hunter Biden all the time, but he was a help to the Second Amendment community, whether we like it or not. And that’s because it did bring up the conversation. It did bring up questions. It started getting people to discuss this a lot more and be serious about our freedoms and how we approach it in the future. That was encouraging. We’re not winning in every sector. It’s moving slowly. But the conversation’s being had, and it seems like it’s moving in the right direction.
I imagine you’ve talked to a lot of people about this issue. How concerned are gun owners who use cannabis in Colorado about the risk of some sort of federal enforcement?
It’s not really something they think about too much. We feel here in Colorado about the federal stuff that it becomes a very difficult process for the federal government to go after somebody who’s got a joint and a gun and prosecute that, right? Early on in the state of Colorado, the feds were very involved. Ultimately, we see that they kind of disappeared and are no longer operating the way they were operating. Before, we saw a lot of raids and they tried to push weight around. And I think the federal government has really known that this is a 10th Amendment issue. They’re just letting the states do what they do. So they’re not really too worried about the federal issue at all.
Colorado is now one of a few states that has moved to legalize psychedelics. Do you see that as a next stage for you in terms of expanding Second Amendment rights for people who consume things like psilocybin? Or what are your thoughts as the substances that are legal continue to change?
If we could, we would get rid of all restrictions for firearms. But in the state of Colorado, unfortunately, the ballot initiative has to be a single subject. So we definitely don’t want to tackle more than one issue at this very moment, and that’s mostly because of legal ramifications, right? If we move forward with with certain language that allows people that take some psychedelics, or people who are dishonorably discharged, or any of the other silly restrictions on possession of firearms, then it becomes a multiple-subjects issue. So, no. I mean, if we could, we would get rid of every single restriction there is for firearms.
Maybe the follow-up question is: Why start with cannabis? If there’s so many issues, how did you pick that one as the place to start?
I mean, if we’re being honest, it’s the low-hanging fruit, the easy one. It almost seems silly that we’re having to do that in 2023, with a majority of the places that you go to, it’s either decriminalized or it’s legal. So it’s—especially here in Colorado—just silly that it’s still a thing. If we want to be successful, that’s one of the ways to be successful, is tackling the issues that are most guaranteed to win. And this is one of them, and hopefully we build traction on that.
Have you thought at all about trying to challenge this at the courts instead of the ballot box?
The way we’re set up here in the state of Colorado, it’s pretty difficult for us to make it to the Supreme Court. Historically, we have not been able to make it to the Supreme Court through our circuit. Our circuit just isn’t famous for passing it on to the Supreme Court. We have Rocky Mountain Gun Owners here, who has multiple times tried to sue in court, and it always seems to stall in the same place and then never moves forward. So it kinds seems like a moot point.
What else should I have asked you about that I might not know to ask?
One of the things that a lot of people are afraid to talk about is the safety issue—people who consume marijuana being safe with with firearms. And one of the things that we have to acknowledge and consider is that freedom is not safe. Freedom is, unfortunately, dangerous. I don’t necessarily consider marijuana users a dangerous class of human beings. In fact, historically speaking, they’re a lot more safe than people who consume alcohol. But I think that’s the wrong way to think about freedom, right? Freedom is not about safety. Freedom is about you being able to partake in what you want to partake and buy what you want to buy, so long as you’re not hurting other human beings. And if that does happen, then the consequences will be there for for you doing that. But until that happens, you ought to be free to enjoy life’s pleasures without restriction.