The Absurd Reason Medical Marijuana Users Are Banned From Buying Guns

You can still buy a gun if you're on the no-fly list in America, but if you smoke marijuana in a legal state, don't expect the same treatment: A federal appeals court recently upheld a ruling that bans gun sales for medical marijuana cardholders, which the court said doesn't violate the Second Amendment.


The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision raised questions about federal gun law priorities. Congressional gridlock has prevented the U.S. from passing "common sense" gun reform measures, such as universal background checks for gun buyers and a no-fly list ban, but the court ruled 3-0 to keep guns out of the hands of medical marijuana patients, the Associated Press reported.

"It's bizarre that a medical marijuana cardholder cannot purchase a firearm, but a person on the no-fly list can," Daniel Shortt, an expert on cannabis law and associate at the Harris Moure law firm, told ATTN:. "As the law stands, marijuana is an unlawful drug, and the inability to purchase a firearm is a consequence of that legal status. The law simply does not provide many protections for unlawful drug users, even though state policy on marijuana distinguishes cannabis from other substances."

Here's some background on the case that led to this ruling.


S. Rowan Wilson attempted to purchase a gun for self-defense in 2011 in Nevada. She was allegedly denied on the basis that she possessed a medical marijuana card. Wilson filed a lawsuit challenging a rule issued by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, which maintains that gun sellers should assume that medical marijuana cardholders use the federally illegal substance. (Wilson said she obtained the card as a symbolic show of support for the legalization movement but does not use marijuana herself.)

A 2011 letter from the ATF to all federally licensed gun sellers prohibited "any person who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substances from shipping, transporting, receiving, or possessing firearms or ammunition." Because marijuana is federally illegal, the ATF said medical marijuana patients in legal states are not exempted from the rule.

The 9th Circuit agreed that marijuana use "raises the risk of irrational or unpredictable behavior with which gun use should not be associated." The court's ruling applied to nine Western states within the appeals court's jurisdiction, including six that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational purposes: California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Nevada, and Alaska.

Legalization advocates dispute the idea that marijuana use is associated with violent behavior.


Studies have found that marijuana actually reduces "aggressive and violent behavior," according to The National Academy of Sciences. Critics question why the law applies to marijuana users while allowing people who abuse alcohol — which is strongly associated with increased risk of violent and unpredictable behavior — to purchase firearms.

"There's absolutely no evidence to support the notion that marijuana use leads people to be more violent," Marijuana Majority founder Tom Angell told ATTN:. "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. Marijuana prohibition and the stigmatization and unfairness it has perpetuated is what's truly irrational," Angell added.

But how would a gun seller be able to determine whether a buyer is a medical marijuana cardholder?


The answer to this question is unclear, Shortt said. Some states such as Washington maintain a statewide database of registered marijuana cardholders, but gun sellers don't have access to this system.

What seems more likely is that users would be prohibited from buying guns if they admit on a questionnaire required at federally licensed gun stores to possessing a marijuana card or admit to using cannabis.

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