Stoners and Guns Don't Mix, California Court Says

These aren't exactly gun nuts.
These aren't exactly gun nuts.
Brian Feinzimer/L.A. Weekly

If you're a legit medical marijuana patient, you might be forfeiting your right to bear arms.

The California-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled this week that medical marijuana users in its jurisdiction do not have the constitutional right to gun ownership. A three-judge panel upheld a lower court ruling that said a Nevada gun store owner had the right to prohibit a medical pot cardholder from buying a firearm.

The ruling applies to the Golden State. Amanda Reiman, manager of marijuana law and policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, says that "using a gun in connection with an offense such as cultivation or possession with sale can result in additional criminal charges" in California, too.

Medical users are forbidden by federal regulations from possessing firearms because cannabis is still a top-level federal outlaw. In its ruling, the court cited a letter from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that says anyone "who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of whether his or her state has passed legislation authorizing marijuana use for medicinal purposes ...  is prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition."

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The case was sparked by S. Rowan Wilson, a Nevada medical weed patient, whose purchase of a firearm was blocked in October 2011 by a gun seller aware of both the ATF's letter and the customer's medical status. Wilson sued the U.S. Attorney General, the ATF and government officials.

The panel said in its ruling that Wilson's arguments could not "overcome Congress' reasonable conclusion that the use of such drugs raises the risk of irrational or unpredictable behavior with which gun use should not be associated."

Medical marijuana advocates were not pleased.

"There’s absolutely no evidence to support the notion that marijuana use leads people to be more violent, as inferred [sic] in the Court's opinion," said Tom Angell, chairman of the group Marijuana Majority. "Regardless of how you feel about guns, no one should be discriminated against or treated differently by the government just because they happen to enjoy marijuana. That should be especially true for people who consume cannabis for medical purposes in accordance with state laws and their doctors’ recommendations."

Reiman of the Drug Policy Alliance suggests that the ruling is based on a faulty stereotype of medical pot users as unstable. She also notes that opiate users and alcoholics face no such constitutional discrimination.

"This is an example of the incongruent picture that government paints of cannabis consumers and what we see in society to be true," she said. "Those who use cannabis for medicine should not be subject to a higher bar than those who take opiate-based medications or drink alcohol. Alcohol use does not preclude someone from purchasing a gun, yet alcohol is correlated to a myriad of public safety issues, including domestic violence and assault."

The plaintiff's attorney, Chaz Rainey, sounded a bit livid when he said this:

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


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