Federal firearms regulators are telling gun shops it’s illegal for someone who uses marijuana to own or buy guns or ammunition, regardless of whether states have passed laws allowing patients to use the drug for medicinal purposes.

In an open letter to all federal firearms licensees posted last week, Arthur Herbert, the assistant director of enforcement programs and services for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said his office has received “a number of inquiries” about whether medical marijuana patients can own or buy guns and ammo in medical-marijuana states.

Federal law says marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug similar to heroin, in spite of 16 states, including California,having passed making the drug legal for medical use. The federal government doesn’t recognize marijuana as a medicine, Herbert says.

“Therefore anyone who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of whether his or her state has passed legislation authorizing marijuana use for medicinal purposes, is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance and is prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition,” Herbert writes.

Gun dealers who have “reasonable cause to believe” someone is using pot or if they see someone check “yes” on a federal firearms form that asks whether someone is using illegal drugs, need to not sell them guns or ammo regardless of whether the customer says the drug is for medicinal purposes, Herbert said.

At least one Redding marijuana collective manager protests the policy.

Niels Hylen, the manager of Northern Patients Group, Inc., says his office on Rhyolite Drive has been robbed at gunpoint twice in recent weeks, and his clerks should be able to own a gun so they can defend themselves.

“That’s definitely a big concern,” Hylen said.

Hylen notes it’s perfectly legal for the liquor store owner across the street to buy and own a gun for protection.

Patrick Jones, the Redding city councilman who owns Jones’ Fort gun shop in Redding, said Herbert’s letter only confirms the law gun dealers have been following for years.

But he says it’s impossible for him to know whether marijuana users simply didn’t check the drug-use box. Not checking the box, he said, is federal perjury.

The maximum penalty for federal perjury is five years in prison.

He said that since voters passed Proposition 215, a ballot initiative legalized medical marijuana in 1996, he’s only had to stop the sale of one gun transaction because the buyer was a 215 patient.

“If we believe you are a 215 user, that sale can’t go forward,” Jones said. “If people don’t like that, they need to take that up with ATF.”