How medical marijuana users lost their gun rights

Marijuana, NakedLaw, News, Opinion, Politics, Rights

Much is unknown about what President-elect Donald Trump might change regarding marijuana prohibition on the federal level once he takes office. We might guess, however, that he would approve of an August 2016 ruling in which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declared that people with medical marijuana registry cards may not legally possess firearms.

When S. Rowan Wilson attempted to purchase a gun in 2011, the store’s owner prohibited her doing so because he knew she had a state-issued medical marijuana card. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court agreed, concluding that such individuals should not have access to guns because the use of illegal drugs can lead to irrational behavior.

Interestingly, Wilson doesn’t even use medical marijuana. She obtained the card to show support for legalization of the drug. The ruling, she says, violates not only her Second Amendment right to bear arms but also her First Amendment right to free speech.

If marijuana cards are legal, then what’s the fuss?

“While it may be a state right to use marijuana, it is still a federal offense,” says Jeff Conrad, an attorney from Clymer Conrad, PC. Although legalized in several states, marijuana, a Schedule I controlled substance, remains illegal under federal law.

“The patchwork of state/federal marijuana laws is going to need to be rectified—the issue will continue to be challenged in the courts unless and until Congress provides a national solution,” Conrad asserts.

Federal or state laws aside, how can the circuit court deny individuals the right to bear arms? “To carry a gun isn’t a privilege, it’s a right,” says Christopher Corso, a criminal defense attorney and founder of Corso Law Group. “Possessing the medical marijuana card is not a crime and should not trigger losing a fundamental right.”

Corso says that if the federal government considers the possession of marijuana (not just the card) to be a crime, then the crime of possession should be committed “before the individual’s rights are stripped.”

The right to bear arms

“The ruling that law-abiding American citizens with medical cannabis registry cards may not legally possess firearms is a clear violation of their Constitutional rights under the Second Amendment,” says cannabis businessman Garyn Angel. “The Bill of Rights makes no provision that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed unless they’ve been prescribed a non-toxic herbal medication.”

“The creeping tendency of the federal government to restrict the rights of lawful citizens with whom it disagrees politically is dangerous,” says Angel. “There are agents of the federal government who resent half of the states for legalizing medical cannabis and resent the Second Amendment for affording citizens protection against an overzealous federal government.”

Simple logistical issues are at work as well: What happens to people who own guns and then get a medical cannabis card? Do they have to turn in their weapons? Can they get them back if they don’t renew their card? Does an individual’s possession of a cannabis card fall under medical privacy laws?

More to the point, does the government have the authority to force patients to choose between what state law considers their medication and their constitutional right to own a firearm?

What about drinkers and prescription drug users?

Ryan Miller is a wounded combat veteran, lifelong NRA member, Harvard graduate, and advocate for the “robust (and responsible) legalization of cannabis.” He questions the court ruling and the lack of response to it by the gun lobby, suggesting that it’s a “political play grounded in discrimination rather than a common-sense policy driven by safety.”

Miller puts aside for a moment “the ridiculousness of cannabis still being Schedule I” and asks, “If federal regulators are so worried about certain substances affecting a user’s state of mind or judgment while around firearms, then shouldn’t they amend the legislation to include the most dangerous substance of all—alcohol?”

Likewise, Angel says that studies reveal that cannabis users are less inclined toward risk-taking, violence, and domestic disturbance than those under the influence of alcohol and other drugs that lower inhibitions and impair neuromuscular coordination. “Cannabis is known to somewhat heighten inhibitions,” he explains, “making one more careful and more conscious than usual of the potential results of one’s actions.”

Angel argues that patients who are prescribed medications like morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, or benzodiazepines are not forced to choose between their medication and lawful gun ownership. “Citizens are even permitted to possess and consume alcohol while owning firearms,” he says. “Drugs of this type far more severely affect the central nervous system and judgment than does cannabis.”

But would lawmakers dare to pass a law prohibiting the possession or consumption of alcohol while in the presence of firearms? Or prohibiting the consumption of certain pharmaceuticals around guns? “Any such legislation would be tantamount to removing all access to firearms,” Angel suspects.

Instead, says Miller, the government specifically targets cannabis, carrying on a “long-standing tradition” of creating laws against the use of substances that would “disproportionately affect people of color and/or certain socioeconomic groups/norms/cultures that involve cannabis.” Meanwhile, no burdens are placed on alcohol or pharmaceutical companies, who, as Miller points out, “clearly have a great influence over policymakers.”

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Avvo.