Medical marijuana, gun laws at odds

May 27–Christine Roberts does not own a gun, and never will as far as the federal government is concerned as long as she continues to use medical marijuana.

The 53-year-old Dickson City woman has taken the drug to ease pain from a serious neck injury since the first Lackawanna County dispensary opened in Scranton in April.

As more dispensaries prepare to open statewide, authorities are warning patients that federal law prohibits anyone who uses marijuana from owning a gun, regardless of whether their state has legalized the drug for medical or recreational purposes.

Roberts questions the logic of the law.

“I know people who are not going on the drug because they would have to give up their guns,” Roberts said recently as she exited the Columbia Care medical marijuana dispensary in the Keyser Oak Shopping Center. “It’s not fair. You can get opioids and a gun. There’s more danger with opioids and guns than medical marijuana.”

The legal quagmire forcing people to choose between weed and weapons stems from conflicting state and federal law. Although 29 states legalized marijuana for medical purposes, it remains illegal under federal law.

“Unfortunately, it’s a situation where patients are forced to chose between their ability to purchase a firearm or the ability to treat illness,” said Morgan Fox, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. “We don’t think medical marijuana patients should be discriminated against when it comes to this or any other right.”

Theoretically, authorities could confiscate weapons of anyone identified as holding a medical marijuana card. In reality, that’s not likely to happen as prosecutors have more pressing issues to address, said Richard Long, executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association.

“District attorneys are not sending out folks kicking in doors to try to enforce the law,” Long said.

Pennsylvania also took steps to protect the identity of medical marijuana users from being disclosed to law enforcement.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health, which regulates medical marijuana, maintains a database of all people who are authorized to use marijuana for medical purposes. Initially, the department planned to make that list available to police through the state’s law enforcement computer network. It reversed that decision in January, after medical marijuana patients raised privacy concerns.

“There’s no fear of any gun owner losing their firearm because they have a medical marijuana card,” said Erica McBride of the Keystone Cannabis Coalition.

The conflicting laws become more of an issue when someone tries to purchase a new gun. By law, a customer must fill out a form that asks if the purchaser is “an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance.”

Users of opioids and other narcotics can truthfully answer “no” if the drug is legally prescribed to them. Medical marijuana users must check “yes” because under federal law there is no legal use for marijuana, Fox said. That immediately disqualifies them from purchasing a gun.

Fox said it’s important medical marijuana users answer the question truthfully. If they lie and law enforcement finds out, they could be charged with perjury.

“Lying on a federal government application is a crime,” Fox said.

Federal authorities in Maine recently charged several men who lied about their marijuana use on the form. The indictments in those cases do not specify if the men were using marijuana for medical or recreational purposes. Attempts to reach their attorneys for clarification were unsuccessful.

Long and Fox said they are hopeful federal legislators enact legislation to resolve the discrepancy. They are not aware of any pending legislation.

“Obviously there is a right to bear arms and purchase firearms,” Long said. “There is an incompatibility in the law that has to be addressed and resolved one way or another.”

This article provided by NewsEdge.