Should medical marijuana card holders have the right to buy a gun?

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling, finding that preventing medical marijuana users from buying a gun does not violate the Second Amendment. 

Sue Ogrocki/AP
A group of people supporting the medicinal use of marijuana in Oklahoma chant during a rally at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City on Tuesday.

Preventing medical marijuana card holders from obtaining firearms does not violate the Second Amendment, a federal court of appeals said Wednesday, rejecting a challenge to a federal ban preventing card holders from purchasing firearms.

The case stemmed from a lawsuit filed by Nevada resident S. Rowan Wilson after she was turned away by a firearms dealer who knew she had a medical marijuana card. Ms. Wilson, who says she obtained the card as a sign of support for legalizing marijuana, but does not use it herself, challenged a directive from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives instructing dealers not to sell firearms to card holders.

"It seems like the court did not foreclose the possibility of a challenge by actual medical marijuana users that they shouldn't be lumped with other drug users in terms of concerns about violence," marijuana law expert Alex Kreit, a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, told the Associated Press.

In 2014, a district judge approved federal attorneys' request to dismiss the case, leading Wilson to appeal their decision. The Ninth Circuit Court upheld the previous dismissal.

The circuit court, which serves nine western states, said that it was reasonable to assume card holders use marijuana, and that the risks of gun use could rise when handled by people under the influence of the drug.

Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, rejected the idea that marijuana users were more prone to violence.

"Responsible adults who use cannabis in a manner that is compliant with the laws of their states ought to receive the same legal rights and protections as other citizens," he told the AP. Meanwhile, the Marijuana Policy Project released a statement calling for medical marijuana users to "be treated the same as patients who use any other doctor-approved medication." The circuit court's region, including states such as California and Nevada, includes some that have led the push for decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana.

On the East Coast, however, traditionally liberal states such as Massachusetts and Vermont have taken a more cautious approach, as The Christian Science Monitor’s Lucy Schouten reported in May. About half of US states have legalized marijuana in some form, including four – plus the District of Columbia – who have legalized it for recreational purposes. The federal government, however, remains reluctant to legalize it. Earlier this month, the Drug Enforcement Agency upheld marijuana's classification as a Schedule 1 drug, with "no current accepted medical use in treatment in the United States," and called for more research.

"The FDA process has been in existence for over 50 years, so why should marijuana get a free pass?" Russ Baer of the Drug Enforcement Administration told the Monitor's Ms. Schouten earlier this month. "If one day the FDA comes to us and says ... there is a medically accepted use for marijuana, for epilepsy, for example, then our narrative and our discussion changes drastically."

Wilson, the Nevada woman who challenged the federal guidance against selling guns to medical marijuana card holders, said she obtained the card as a way to support marijuana legalization. Her constitutional rights were violated by those guidelines, she said in an original lawsuit. 

Wilson's rights were somewhat infringed, the appeals court said in its 30-page opinion, but the government had a "substantial interest" in preventing gun violence. "It is beyond dispute that illegal drug users, including marijuana users, are likely ... to experience altered or impaired mental states that affect their judgment and that can lead to irrational or unpredictable behavior," Judge Jed Rakoff wrote.

Wilson plans to appeal, her attorney Chaz Rainey said, according to the Associated Press.

"We live in a world where having a medical marijuana card is enough to say you don't get a gun," Mr. Rainey said, "But if you're on the no fly list your constitutional right is still protected." 

This report includes material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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