Medical marijuana has enjoyed a massive surge in popularity in recent years. It is now believed to be beneficial for a myriad of different conditions including chronic pain, nausea, appetite disorders, anxiety, PTSD, and epilepsy. These benefits are supported by a wealth of clinical research and have led to a real turn around in public opinion as well as the law.
With medical marijuana now legal in more states than ever, many people have begun to question how becoming a patient may affect their constitutional rights. One such question is how having a medical marijuana card could impact the Second Amendment, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”
The simple answer to whether you can be a medical marijuana patient and own a gun is no. However, like so many questions in the wonderful world of weed, the situation is a little more complicated than it first seems.
Let’s take a closer look at the law surrounding guns and medical marijuana, and what they mean for those wanting the best of both worlds.
What Does the Law Say About Medical Marijuana and Guns?
Despite the fact that cannabis is now legal for medicinal use in 33 states plus D.C., it is still classed as a Schedule I controlled substance and remains illegal at a federal level. The DEA defines a Schedule I substance as having a high potential for abuse and little or no medicinal value.
In recent years, marijuana supporters have repeatedly called for the drug to be reclassified, and recent advances mean that it may not be long before marijuana is removed from the Schedule I list. However, for now, it remains firmly in place alongside harder narcotics such as heroin, LSD, and MDMA.
Because of its Schedule I status, anyone who uses weed, even if it is legal in their state, is classed as an ‘unlawful user.’ This creates a potential problem when it comes to buying a gun.
Anyone wishing to purchase a gun from a licensed seller will be asked to fill in a Firearms Transaction Record issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).
Section 11.e of this form asks you to disclose whether you unlawfully use marijuana or any other controlled substances. It then goes on to clarify that marijuana possession remains federally illegal, regardless of the laws of your state. Filling in this form incorrectly or untruthfully is classed as perjury, a felony which is punishable by up to five years in prison.
The ATF’s stance on guns and marijuana was confirmed back in 2011 when they issued an open letter to all firearms dealers. The letter reiterated that anyone who is known or suspected to be an “unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance” is legally prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm or ammunition.
In this letter, the law on the subject of cannabis and guns was made quite clear by the ATF, to both dealers and buyers alike. However, not everyone was happy to accept it.
The Case of Wilson vs. Lynch
Shortly after the ATF issued its open letter, Nevada resident S. Rowan Wilson decided to purchase a gun for self-defense. However, when she visited her local firearms dealer Loretta E. Lynch, she was promptly turned down. Lynch happened to know that Wilson was a medical marijuana cardholder and, naturally, wanted to comply with the law.
Wilson was unhappy about this and decided to file a lawsuit against Lynch, claiming that her Second Amendment rights (among others) had been violated. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the case was dismissed, but Wilson did not give up. However, when the case finally reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit after two failed appeals, it was undeniably thrown out once and for all.
The court ruled that Wilson’s Second Amendment rights had not been violated due to an earlier ruling (from the case of United States vs. Dugan) that unlawful drug users’ rights to bear arms were not protected. The appeal panel justified their decision further, citing the government’s priorities of preventing violent crime.
That’s right. Despite a growing acceptance of cannabis and its potential benefits, there are still many people who associate the drug with an increased risk of violent crime.
Does Marijuana Cause Violent Crime?
Cannabis has had a bad reputation since its prohibition and demonization in the early 20th century. Those who still oppose it claim that it increases the risk of violent or aggressive behavior as well as acting as a ‘gateway drug’ to more harmful substances.
Most pot-smokers will find it very difficult to reconcile this image with their own lifestyles. The vast majority of those who use weed do so in order to relax rather than set out on a drug-fuelled crime spree!
Of course, there are always exceptions, and one commonly used example is cannabis use and gangs. Gang members are often involved in violent crime, and may also use marijuana or other illegal substances. But is weed really responsible for these crimes, or is the link just a coincidence?
When it comes to finding research as to whether marijuana really leads to violence, the evidence is as mixed as people’s views on the drug itself.
Some studies show that cannabis use can increase the incidence of violence and aggression, especially among younger people. Others show no causal relationship between marijuana and violent crime at all.
Some researchers have suggested that crime might increase in states where weed is legal, with dispensaries and growers being obvious targets. However, preliminary investigations suggest that the opposite is true, with some places seeing an overall reduction in crime following legalization. One possible explanation for this is increased security in areas surrounding dispensaries.
While it is hard to say for sure whether cannabis causes violence, what we can say with some degree of certainty is that alcohol misuse does. And let’s face it, nobody is going to stop you from owning a gun because you enjoy a few beers at the weekend!
Either way, the fact that weed is not proven to increase violence is sure to add insult to injury for patients who wish to use marijuana and also own a gun.
How Strictly are the Laws on Marijuana and Guns Enforced?
If you use medical marijuana and try to buy a gun from a licensed seller, you will probably be turned down. However, a survey of 1613 gun owners carried out in 2015 suggested that as many as 22% purchased their weapon without any kind of background check being carried out. When it came to private sales conducted online, in person, or at gun shows, this figure rose dramatically to 50%.
However, the government is getting wise to this loophole in the law, and many states now require point-of-sale background checks for all purchases. Some states have gone even further and now require customers to obtain a special permit before even thinking about buying a gun.
But what if you already own a gun and want to become a medical marijuana patient? Does doing things this way round mean you can circumnavigate the law?
Unfortunately, although the answer to this question is less clear-cut, it is still technically no. While nobody is likely to ask whether you own a gun when you apply for your medical marijuana card, the law does state that any unlawful user of a Schedule I substance should not ship, transport, receive or possess firearms or ammunition.
If you wanted to, you could probably choose to go under the radar and become a patient even though you already own a gun. However, if you do so, you risk escalating any cannabis-related charges that you may face later on. You could also potentially be charged with perjury.
Can I Become a Medical Marijuana Patient and Own a Gun? Final Thoughts
If you are registered as a medical marijuana user, you are technically breaking federal law, even if weed is legal in your state. Being an ‘unlawful user’ means that you are not permitted to purchase a firearm.
Anybody determined to own a gun and use cannabis in spite of this law will probably find a way to do so. There are still some unscrupulous sellers that may allow you to buy a firearm without carrying out a background check, and if you already have a gun, you may be able to get a medical marijuana card without too much hassle.
However, if you do decide to take advantage of these loopholes and get caught, you could receive a hefty prison sentence of up to five years for perjury. Not something we would recommend!
Unfortunately, it seems you have to choose between breaking the law or making a painful sacrifice. So, which would you rather keep, your gun or your medical marijuana card? Let us know in the comments below!