ATF inspector stops firearm purchase, says buyer smelled of marijuana

A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives industry operations investigator violated the Second Amendment rights of a central Florida man last month, when he ordered a gun dealer to halt a pistol sale because he believed the purchaser possibly smelled of marijuana.

The industry operations investigator, or IOI, who is based out of ATF’s Tampa field office, was conducting a routine audit of a Plant City-based gun dealer when Daniel [last name withheld] walked in to pick up a 9mm Beretta APX he had ordered through GunBroker, which had been shipped from a pawn shop in Alabama.

The Second Amendment Foundation agreed to withhold Daniel’s last name from this story. He had already completed an ATF Form 4473, denying he was “an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance,” passed a background check, and was ready to take his new handgun home until the IOI intervened and ordered the gun dealer to stop the sale.

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“I wasn’t high,” Daniel told the Second Amendment Foundation. “None of this makes any sense to me.”

There are many reasons why Daniel could have smelled like marijuana — if the IOI’s allegations are even true.

Florida legalized medical cannabis in 2016. As of last year, the state has issued more than 831,000 medical cannabis cards. There are hundreds of cannabis dispensaries throughout the state. While federal law still criminalizes marijuana use or possession, even ATF’s Tampa spokesman Jason Medina admitted it was possible that Daniel could have been exposed to second-hand smoke if his spouse, friends, or family use cannabis medicinally.

“That’s true,” Medina admitted last week during a brief interview.

In addition, Amazon and hundreds of other retailers offer marijuana-scented candles, incense, sprays, air fresheners, colognes, perfumes, and essential oils — any one of which could have caused a similar odor.

The IOI’s actions raise other questions, which Medina refused to address. Most notably, ATF IOIs are not real cops, or, as Medina explained, are “not sworn.”

“They are not certified,” he said. “They are regulators.”

As a result, IOIs are not trained like real cops. Medina would not say whether the IOI who stopped the sale was ever trained to detect the odor of marijuana or whether his observations were based upon his personal use. Neither would he say whether the IOI was trained to recognize the symptoms of someone who is under the influence of marijuana.

Medina would not address under what circumstances an IOI has authority to halt a firearm transfer — a question he described during his brief interview as “a good one.” Neither would he disclose whether the IOI’s actions were within ATF’s policy and procedures.

“Someone will get back to you,” Medina promised March 8.

As of close of business March 11, neither Medina nor anyone else was willing to discuss the case, including the IOI’s boss, Aaron Gerber, the director of industry operations for ATF’s Tampa field office. Gerber did not respond to calls, texts, or emails seeking his comments for this story.


As for ATF’s disturbing pattern of ignoring media questions that they cannot control — keep in mind ATF Director Steve Dettelbach just gave a 21-minute interview to CBS that contained nothing but softball questions — the agency needs to remember it is funded by tax dollars, so the public has a right to know about its employees’ conduct and misconduct.

Daniel denied he used marijuana on his 4473. That should have been good enough. He should have been taken at his word. Instead, the IOI violated his constitutional rights based on a mere sniff. This is just the latest example of the ATF making up an excuse to deny a purchase and then hiding from any ensuing scrutiny or fallout.

Lee Williams is chief editor of the Second Amendment Foundation's Investigative Journalism Project. Republished with permission.

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