Why Guns and Medical Marijuana Cards Don’t Mix

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Shanti Ryle - Content Writer

Nov 05 2021 - 4 min read

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, medical cannabis users are thought to be utilizing a controlled substance. As such, according to federal law, medical marijuana patients cannot legally purchase firearms.

However, gun and cannabis laws vary from state to state, and there’s a lot more to cannabis and gun ownership than meets the eye. This piece dives into more details surrounding 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.

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 they hold 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. 

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ gun and medical marijuana ruling applies to the following states:

    • Alaska
    • Arizona
    • California
    • Hawaii
    • Idaho
    • Montana
    • Nevada
    • Oregon
    • Washington
    • District of Guam
    • Northern Mariana Islands

However, the laws vary outside of these states, and where some have restrictions, others may not. A recent ruling in Oregon, for example, 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 to 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 are required to fill out when purchasing a gun, to ask the question of whether the applicant uses cannabis or is addicted to it. Unfortunately, should you mark “yes” on the question, you are ineligible to own a gun legally. But if you carry an MMJ card and say “no,” you don’t use cannabis, you’ve committed perjury which is a felony. 

According to the ATF, “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, and, 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 originally meant to enhance sentences for criminal drug dealers carrying firearms. 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 the law to protect their cannabis industries.

Additionally, the ATF will technically permit medical cannabis patients to have a gun in their house if their spouse does 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 already 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.

A side note: you can purchase a gun again once your MMJ card expires.

Medical Marijuana Card Cost

The Bottom Line on Whether You Can Own a Gun with an MMJ Card

Ultimately, this all means one thing for patients: for now, you must choose between your medical marijuana card or your second amendment rights. Anyone determined enough to own a gun and use cannabis despite the law will probably find a way to do so, but it’s a dangerous game to play.

In the future, we hope new legislation is introduced that will allow medical marijuana patients to access this life-changing medicine and enjoy their second amendment rights.

Written by
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Shanti Ryle

Shanti Ryle is a content marketer with more than half a decades’ experience writing about cannabis science and culture. Her work has been featured in Forbes, Weedmaps News/Marijuana.com, Wall Street Journal, and other publications.

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