Medical marijuana patients are not authorized to purchase a gun, even if they have never been convicted of a crime. Is this unconstitutional?
This guest post by frequent Kight on Cannabis contributor Kate Harveston explores a controversial subject: gun control in the context of marijuana. It argues that laws prohibiting medical marijuana patients from purchasing a gun, even if they have never been convicted of a crime, are unconstitutional and bad policy. Regardless of your views on gun control generally, Kate makes important points about how the war on cannabis has eroded constitutional rights and promoted public policies that often have no rational relationship to the issues that the policies are intended to address. I hope that you will find this article thought provoking. I did. -Rod Kight
You don’t lose your Constitutional right to bear arms if your doctor legally prescribes you Fentanyl, a substance hundreds of times stronger than morphine. If you go out and get drunk, even if you get a misdemeanor DUI, you retain your right to own a gun. But if you get your medical cannabis card, you lose your right to own a gun. How is this a sensible policy?
Many law enforcement organizations across the US admit that cannabis is less dangerous than alcohol. In general, cannabis users exhibit fewer violent tendencies than people who abuse other substances, including those legally prescribed by physicians. Regardless of one’s stance on gun rights, the fact of the matter is that Americans still have Second Amendment rights. And one’s choice in whether to medicate naturally or chemically shouldn’t strip away those rights.
Why Can’t Medical Cannabis Card Holders Buy Guns?
Federal law dictates why medical cannabis users can find their applications for gun ownership rejected. The Gun Control Act of 1968 states any user of a Schedule I controlled substance is prohibited from owning a gun. The act also prohibits others from buying a firearm for or otherwise providing one to someone they know or suspect to be a drug user. Cannabis remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, meaning one that it has no medical purpose.
Federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Form 4473 gives the federal government the right to collect background check information from licensed gun shops and owners. The form requests applicants to certify they do not engage in substance abuse — lying about use is a felony. Therefore, individuals face two options: lie about something easily verified and risk a lengthy prison sentence or admit use and have their application rejected.
While conflicts between state and federal law have long existed in regard to cannabis, in general, the feds have left legally operating cannabis businesses alone since the Obama Administration. The one exception? Gun ownership. And the law doesn’t only apply to medical cannabis patients — it includes recreational users in states like California that have made the substance available for adult purchase.
Denying Gun Rights to Cannabis Users Fuels the Black Market
Part of the purpose of cannabis legalization includes ending black market demand for the substance. Gang violence too often catches innocent people in the crossfire. But the current federal law prohibiting medical cannabis users from owning firearms keeps the need for the black market strong. And supply follows demand.
Prior to legalization, people still used cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes. Ignoring for the moment the racial disparities inherent in our justice system, the fact remains that people find ways to get what they need. Today, those who fear to lose their Constitutional right to bear arms but who nevertheless prefer cannabis for treating a host of ailments have only one solution — buy the substance on the street.
Even in states with recreational cannabis, the black market remains strong for many reasons. Many states, for example, limit how much cannabis people can buy. Illegally-operated shops follow no such limits. Many such shops resemble legitimate businesses in many aspects in order to maintain a low profile and avoid raids.
Street cannabis proves problematic for several reasons, many related to health. For example, some jurisdictions now mandate growers to reveal what pesticides or fungicides they used during cultivation. This protects people with certain allergies.
Additionally, people who buy cannabis from street dealers have little idea what they’re getting. Some users have purchased baggies laced with dangerous “spice,” or artificial cannabis. While not a single patient to date has overdosed on genuine cannabis, several people lost their lives and others grew ill from the synthetic version.
A Nation That Does Nothing About Gun Violence Has No Business Discriminating Against Cannabis Users
As of September of 2019, mass shooters struck more often than the number of days in the year to date. Some people blame easy access to semi-automatic weapons. Others blame violent video games or untreated mental health issues. All elements likely play a role. What has not contributed to the violence? Legal cannabis.
Yet the one thing the majority of mass shooters have in common? A history of domestic violence. And in the majority of jurisdictions in the U.S., domestic abusers get to keep their guns even after they’re arrested. Federal law does not prohibit the sale of firearms to those arrested for domestic violence even though over half of female homicides occur at the hands of a current or former intimate partner. But if granny uses cannabis to treat her glaucoma, she can’t legally defend the homestead with her rifle?
If we want to enact Second Amendment restrictions — as many argue we must in the wake of recent violence — we need to do so in a manner that will truly protect public safety. No evidence exists to indicate cannabis users are any more violence-prone than other individuals. Ample evidence exists to indicate those who perpetuate prior acts of violence — including domestic violence — often escalate. Banning those with a history of such offenses from buying firearms makes more sense than telling otherwise law-abiding citizens, “You may have either this right or that right, but not both.”
Medical Cannabis Users Deserve the Same Rights as Anyone Else
As long as those who take legally-prescribed controlled substances or imbibe in alcohol keep their right to bear arms, medical cannabis users deserve the same rights. Only when we stop punishing the innocent for crimes of violence they haven’t committed will we truly be the land of the free.
September 14, 2019
This is a guest post by Kate Harveston, a frequent contributor to the Kight on Cannabis legal blog. Kate is a freelance health and wellness writer and cannabis advocate. You can read more of Kate’s writing at her personal blog, So Well, So Woman!
Rod Kight is an attorney who represents lawful cannabis businesses. He speaks at cannabis conferences across the country, drafts and presents cannabis legislation to foreign governments, is regularly quoted on cannabis matters in the media, and maintains the Kight on Cannabis legal blog, where he discusses legal issues affecting the cannabis industry. You can contact him here.