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Does being a medical marijuana patient affect one’s Second Amendment rights? Asked differently, can you legally own a gun with a medical marijuana card?
Unfortunately, the simple answer is no. Because the federal government says cannabis is illegal and considers it a Schedule 1 drug, medical cannabis users are thought to be utilizing a controlled substance. According to federal law, medical marijuana patients cannot legally purchase firearms.
However, gun and cannabis laws vary from state to state, and there’s much more to cannabis and gun ownership than meets the eye. This piece details more about bearing firearms as a medical cannabis user and what you should keep in mind when considering adding either to your life. Note that nothing in this article constitutes legal advice, and if you have specific questions about medical cannabis in your state, we recommend consulting a lawyer.
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What the Law Says About Medical Marijuana and Gun Ownership
The federal laws governing firearm ownership and medical marijuana stretch back for decades. The Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits individuals from possessing guns or ammunition if they are addicted to or use any controlled substance.
Federal law is quite clear regarding its stance on medical marijuana and gun ownership. The FDA still classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, meaning it has no apparent medicinal value, has high abuse potential, and (according to the classification) both possession and use are illegal.
The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) sent an open letter to all licensed firearms dealers in 2011 stating that one cannot purchase a firearm at a gun store if one holds a medical marijuana card. When a card-carrying patient challenged the law in Wilson vs. Lynch, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that prohibiting the sale of firearms to medical marijuana patients did not violate their second amendment rights.
Some states have issued their own laws in addition to this ruling. For example, a recent ruling in Oregon allowed medical marijuana gun owners to receive a concealed carry license. On the other hand, Florida recently ruled that a medical marijuana patient could not legally purchase a firearm.
And remember, federal law supersedes state law, regardless of whatever legislation a state has written into its law books on gun ownership and medical marijuana.
Are There Loopholes in the Laws?
The Wilson vs. Lynch ruling doesn’t necessarily close the door for MMJ patients seeking to purchase guns. As each state has different rules, some require background checks, whereas others, like Georgia, make it easy to buy a gun with little fuss. Federal law clarifies that licensed weapons dealers must perform a background check on anyone purchasing a gun, but then again, one-fifth of all gun sales involve unlicensed dealers.
However, the ATF issued a second warning following the Wilson vs. Lynch case. The organization amended Form 4473, which potential gun owners must fill out when purchasing a gun, to ask whether the applicant uses cannabis or is addicted to it. If you mark “yes” on the question, you are legally ineligible to own a gun. But if you carry an MMJ card and say “no,” you don’t use cannabis, you’ve committed perjury, a felony.
The ATF states: “The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside.”
The law is only applicable if the gun seller performs a background check; sadly, firearm purchasing regulations are often lax. However, if law enforcement pulls you over, you’d want to avoid giving them reasonable cause to search your vehicle if you’re carrying both a firearm and cannabis.
Does a Medical Marijuana Card Invalidate a Gun License?
Essentially, yes. Even if you’re in a state with legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use, you cannot legally own a firearm, even if you are licensed for both.
If you possess a gun, a medical marijuana card “invalidates” any firearm license you may have. This puts many people in an unfortunate catch-22 if they already have a gun, and enforcement depends on the context of the situation.
Even though the language of the Gun Control Act is straightforward, the changing sentiment around cannabis and its emerging legality has made enforcing it all but impossible.
The law was initially meant to enhance criminal drug dealers carrying firearms sentences. But now, as an example, armed security guards are often required to protect dispensaries to ensure safety and supervise cannabis transportation and purchases. By being in the presence of cannabis, these people are violating the law merely for working in a dispensary. Yet, many states don’t enforce laws to protect their cannabis industries.
Additionally, the ATF will technically permit medical cannabis patients to have guns in their houses if their spouses do not consume cannabis. The spouse must keep the weapon locked away to ensure the medical marijuana cardholder cannot access it.
The law gets even more confusing if you apply for an MMJ and own a gun. You cannot purchase more firearms, but there’s no existing guidance on what to do with your gun — and relinquishing it could open the door to potential prosecution against you.
The Bottom Line on Whether You Can Own a Gun with an MMJ Card
Ultimately, this all means one thing for patients: you must now choose between your medical marijuana card or your second amendment rights. Despite the law, anyone determined enough to own a gun and use cannabis will probably find a way to do so, but it’s a dangerous game.
In the future, we hope new legislation will allow medical marijuana patients to access this life-changing medicine and enjoy their rights.
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