The obstacle to Better Health: Medical Marijuana vs. Gun Ownership

Medical marijuana is now legal in many states. However, those who do use marijuana for health-related issues could be faced with a dilemma. In order to get their medical marijuana, they may have to surrender their Constitutional right to own a gun.

This is because marijuana is still not legalized under federal law, even if it's for medicinal purposes. In fact, federal authorities have made it known to gun dealers that federal law prohibits drug users, including those who use medical marijuana, from owning guns.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives produced a memo a few years ago outlining their position. Here are the key points of the memo:

  • Federal law prohibits anyone classified as an unlawful addict or user of any controlled substance from receiving, possessing or shipping firearms or ammunition.
  • Marijuana is on the Federal Schedule I for illegal drugs. That puts marijuana on the same level as heroin and LSD
  • The memo also states there are no exceptions, including state-legal medical marijuana.

To further confuse things, enforcement of this federal law states that jurisdictions must provide medical marijuana user data for federal gun background checks, but are not required to provide data on recreational marijuana consumers. As a result, those who use medical marijuana are denied their Constitutional gun rights because that will show up when a firearm dealer does the federal background check.

That means, those who purchase recreational cannabis do not show up on a federal background check, yet medical marijuana users do. This conspicuous contradiction is detrimental to the rights of medical marijuana patients. This is especially true for those using non-psychoactive CBD products to prevent epileptic seizures.

While individual states can't reverse a federal policy, they have individual solutions to enforcement. Some local and state governments, such as Honolulu Hawaii, have not only forbidden medical users from purchasing firearms but have unsuccessfully attempted to force medical users to surrender all firearms they currently own. On the other hand, Pennsylvania's Department of Health no longer shares its database of medical marijuana users with Pennsylvania's law enforcement database. This means that background checks by gun dealers won't identify medical marijuana users, and thereby side-stepping the restriction.

Recently, West Virginia U.S. Rep. Alexander Mooney introduced the Second Amendment Protection Act, House bill H.R. 2071, that will give an exemption from federal firearm laws to medical marijuana users. This bill, if passed, will amend the United States Code with the exception that medical marijuana users will not be treated the same as unlawful users or addicts. Furthermore, enforcement will be based on State law.

However, right now, anyone who wants to legally purchase a gun is required, on penalty of felony prosecution, to state their marijuana use on the background check submitted by licensed gun dealers. That's even when medical or recreational marijuana is legal in that state. Unfortunately, licensed gun dealers are currently legally prohibited by federal law from selling firearms to anyone who is honest about using cannabis.

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