Reconciling Cannabis Cards and Gun Laws
Image Source: Flickr / Sebastian Gonzalez Rodriguez
By Gaurav Dubey (M.S. Biotechnology) STAFF
The issue of gun rights has become an incredibly contentious topic of debate in modern society. While the push for national gun reform continues, there remains much confusion on how the current gun laws affect the increasingly growing medical cannabis population.
Massive Confusion Around Guns Laws and Cannabis
Questions and confusion regarding whether or not medical cannabis patients must relinquish their arms and/or forfeit their right to future arms purchases when obtaining a medical cannabis card is all too common, whereas answers are ambiguous and hard to find. As with much of the legislation concerning cannabis, there is significant friction between state and federal laws. Consequently, enforcement of said laws varies widely across different states as well. New attorney general Jeff Sessions, under the Trump administration, has rescinded the “Cole Memo” as of January 2018 (www.justice.gov, 2018).
The Cole Memo deferred the prosecution of petty cannabis related offenses to the states instead of allocating federal funds and resources to enforce such laws (www.justice.gov, 2013). With over half the country adopting medical cannabis programs however, there is clearly discord between federal and state governments. What does this mean for currently licensed gun owners seeking to get a medical cannabis card for a debilitating illness? On the flipside, what does it mean for medical cannabis patients legally recognized by their state who wish to exercise their second amendment rights? This review aims to clear the air surrounding the hazy issues of cannabis and gun laws, hopefully providing the medical cannabis community and society as a whole, a clearer picture of how to reconcile the controversial issues of cannabis and guns.
Navigating the Complexities of State and Federal Laws
The simple answer to the questions posed earlier is: Yes and No. The reality is that this issue is anything but straightforward. Let’s partake in a quick history lesson regarding the Gun Control Act of 1968 (also known as public law 90-618), which defined “at risk” individuals who shall be denied their second amendment rights to own/purchase firearms. Within this group, falls an individual who uses or is addicted to controlled substances (Public Law 90-618). As far as the federal government is concerned, there is no such thing as a “legal” cannabis patient or user in the United States since cannabis is still a schedule I substance as per federal law.
However, laws and regulations surrounding FOID (Firearm Owners Identification Card) as well as Concealed Carry Licenses (CCL) are regulated by the state. As such, “State law requires that a person’s status as a medical marijuana cardholder not result in the denial of any right or privilege” (Illinois State Police). Therefore, at least in Illinois, you will not be denied a FOID or CCL card due to your status as a medical cannabis patient or caregiver pursuant to the Compassionate Care Act. However, are you able to use this card to actually purchase firearms if you’re a medical cannabis patient? Turns out the answer to this too, as we will discuss next, is both yes and no.
How the 2nd Amendment Applies to Cannabis Patients
The second amendment of the United States constitution “protects an individual right to possess a firearm” (“The Constitution of the United States”, Amendment 2). However, such laws are not set in stone and universally applicable to all citizens of the U.S. Regulations in place prohibit certain populations and demographics, such as convicted felons, from owning a firearm. Furthermore, as discussed earlier, the enforcement of such laws tend to vary state by state, especially when you throw cannabis legislation and patients into the mix.
Since cannabis is still a federally illegal, schedule I drug, federal firearm licensees (FFL’s) are prohibited from selling firearms to card holding cannabis patients, as per a 2011 open letter from the DOJ to all FFL’s (Herbert, 2011). However, this does not mean a medical cannabis patient cannot purchase firearms at all; it simply means they are unable to do so from federally licensed arms dealers. The specific wording in the letter states: “Medical Cannabis (with a valid FOID/CCL) cardholders may purchase through person to person transactions (non-FFL); however, they cannot purchase from an FFL.”
Furthermore, as per the IL State police, “Medical marijuana cardholders will not have their FOID or CCL cards revoked, or be denied issuance of a FOID or CCL card, due to their status as a medical marijuana cardholder” (IL State Police). Thus, there is a way to have your cake and eat it too, in that, you may not be denied a FOID/CCL card if you’re a medical cannabis patient or caregiver in IL and purchase guns from private (not federal) dealers. However, it is important to advise the public that due to Sessions and the DOJ’s rescinding of the Cole Memo, there now exists a higher likelihood of police and prosecutors to follow federal law instead and punish or revoke the rights of gun owners who use cannabis.
Continuing the Fight for Fair and Equal Rights to Access
In the end, we as a society cannot hope to adequately integrate cannabis use into our laws, customs and policies until the descheduling (or at the very least, rescheduling) of cannabis from a schedule I compound/substance. Thus, the fight must go on for the constitutional rights of medical cannabis patients. Needless to say, when comparing different legally available substances (such as alcohol and Rx stimulants/opioids/narcotics) to cannabis, there is a clear double standard.
Is it reasonable to deny medical cannabis patients their second amendment right but not apply this standard to those who consume alcohol or prescription drugs such as Oxycontin (commonly abused and addicting painkilling narcotic medication). Surely someone’s judgment can become equally impaired on any number of substances outside of just cannabis. An upcoming review will analyze statistics and scientific data regarding relationship between different drugs (including alcohol, because it is a drug too) and how it’s use correlates to acts of violence. For now, all we can do is stay informed and spread good, resourceful information for the community at large. We may not be armed with guns, but we can always be armed with facts!
Special thanks to the Chief Public Information Officer at the Illinois State Police for answering some of our questions.
MEMORANDUM FOR ALL UNITED STATES ATTORNEYS: Guidance regarding marijuana enforcement, (2013). Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/resources/3052013829132756857467.pdf
SB2529 99th general assembly: FOID-MEDICAL CANNABIS, Senate BillU.S.C. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/BillStatus.asp?DocNum=2529&GAID=13&DocTypeID=SB&LegId=95205&SessionID=88&GA=99
Herbert, A. (2011). In Federal Firearm Licensee’s (FFL) (Ed.), Open letter to all federal firearms licensees U.S. Department of Justice.
IL State Police: Firearms Service Bureau. (2018). Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from https://www.ispfsb.com/Public/Faq.aspx
Public act 099-0519, (2018). Retrieved from http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/publicacts/99/PDF/099-0519.pdf
The United States Department of Justice. (2018). Justice department issues memo on marijuana enforcement. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-issues-memo-marijuana-enforcement
Gun control act of 1968, Public LawU.S.C. (1968). Retrieved from https://archive.org/stream/GunControlActOf1968PubLaw9061882StatPg1213/Gun_Control_Act_of_1968_Pub_Law_90-618_82_Stat_Pg_1213_djvu.txt