The disconnect between state and federal laws regarding marijuana use continues to cause headaches in our courts. We previously saw cases where people were being denied jobs after failing a drug screening test even though they informed their prospective employer they had a medical marijuana prescription. (One woman in Connecticut actually prevailed in court on that issue, but still failed to get her job back.) Another area of concern comes in the question of whether or not residents of states where either medical or recreational marijuana has been legalized should be able to legally purchase a firearm.
This question is back in the spotlight after a doctor in Pennsylvania who both prescribes and uses medical marijuana was denied a permit to purchase a pistol after admitting to marijuana use. This has prompted a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s ability to issue such a denial. (Huffington Post)
A medical marijuana prescriber and patient is challenging President Donald Trump’s administration over a federal statute barring cannabis users from purchasing or owning firearms, even when they take the drug legally pursuant to state law.
In April, Philadelphia-based doctor Matthew Roman went to a local gun store with plans to buy a revolver for self-defense. Pennsylvania is one of more than 30 states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal use, and Roman is licensed to prescribe cannabis to qualifying patients in his state. He also has a card that allows him to use the plant to treat symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Although Roman has “no other record of violence, criminal activity, or mental disorder,” according to the suit, when he went to purchase the handgun, a clerk informed him that his status as a medical marijuana patient meant he could not legally obtain a firearm.
We saw some foreshadowing of this conflict back in January when the law was taking effect. The Pennsylvania State Police put a notice up on their website urging gun owners with medical marijuana cards to find a way to “dispose of their firearms.” This had many gun owners up in arms when the media picked up the story, and now they have a test case to take before the courts.
More than two years ago I wrote about the question of Second Amendment rights for marijuana users in states where the drug has been legalized. You can read the entire story at the link, but the short version of it is that I don’t see a clear way of resolving this question as long as we have state and federal laws in such direct conflict. The idea that recreational or medicinal users of marijuana are somehow inherently more dangerous with a gun in their possession than heavy alcohol drinkers sounds rather preposterous. But the laws on the books simply are what they are. Gun shop owners can’t afford to be shut down over something as simple as completing a sale to someone with a medical marijuana card.
Are federal drug laws “supreme” when it comes to conflicting state laws or not? It would seem that the Supreme Court should be able to sort this out. If the answer to that question is yes then all of the state laws legalizing marijuana use are unconstitutional. If the answer is no, then placing these limits on gun ownership for legal marijuana users shouldn’t be allowed. But as recently as May of this year, the Supremes took up the question and basically punted. In that case, they were considering a move to make medical (not recreational) marijuana legal in an exception under the law. The court upheld the fact that marijuana has been determined by Congress to be illegal. Clarence Thomas wrote, “Congress has made a determination that marijuana has no medical benefits worthy of an exception.”
But at the same time, the court did nothing to strike down all of the state laws legalizing it. That left us with the same disconnect that’s causing all of these problems today. So if you want a solution, you’ll need to get Congress to either create an exception for medical marijuana, legalize it completely, or declare the states out of order for legalizing it.