A 58-year old man from Maine is challenging the state’s ban on gun possession for those who are “an unlawful user of or is addicted to any controlled substance and as a result is prohibited from possession of a firearm”, arguing that individuals like himself who are certified medical marijuana users are unconstitutionally losing their right to keep and bear arms.
Richard Tonini was originally charged with unlawfully furnishing scheduled drugs as well as illegal firearms possession, but a jury found him not guilty of the drug charges. The jury did, on the other hand, find that Tonini was guilty of illegal gun possession.
Tonini’s attorney, Max Coolidge of Ellsworth, has appealed the conviction — for which Tonini had to pay a $350 fine — to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. In a 29-page brief filed in late September, Coolidge wrote that the law Tonini was found guilty of violating is a “vague criminal statute” that “violates due process because it fails to give citizens effective notice of prohibited conduct.”
The law in question prohibits anyone from possessing a firearm who “is an unlawful user of or is addicted to any controlled substance and as a result is prohibited from possession of a firearm” under federal law.
In his brief, Coolidge argues that the law does not provide people with fair notice that they could be barred from owning firearms, and he writes that the law’s vague language could “encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”
As Tonini’s attorney notes, his client was never actually found to have been a user of or addicted to cannabis.
According to jury trial transcripts, the arresting officer, Trooper Travis Chapman of the Maine State Police, “did not observe any signs that Tonini was or had recently been using marijuana. Tonini did not appear intoxicated. Chapman did not smell smoke or observe any pipes or other smoking paraphernalia,” Coolidge wrote.
Tonini told Chapman that, as a certified medical marijuana patient, he was allowed to have 8 pounds of marijuana.
Of course, in many states, simply possessing a medical marijuana card is enough to turn a gun owner into a prohibited person. In Pennsylvania, sheriffs are denying concealed carry licenses to medical marijuana users. In Hawaii the Honolulu Police Department informed gun owners who were medical marijuana users to turn in their firearms before ultimately backing down, though the department is still not approving new gun licenses for medical marijuana patients.
As more states legalize cannabis, either for medical or recreational use, this is going to become a bigger and bigger issue. As I’ve said before, I don’t think it’s right that individuals should have to choose between their health and their safety.
I believe it is unconscionable to tell a cancer patient that they must choose between their right of self-defense and their ability to go through the day without vomiting every time they try to eat some solid food. I believe it is unjust to tell a veteran diagnosed with PTSD that they must give up their 2nd Amendment rights if they get a medical marijuana card. I believe it is inhumane to tell dozens of medical marijuana patients to turn in their guns or risk arrest and prosecution.
At the moment, individuals have an incentive to use the illicit market to get their cannabis rather than go through a state’s regulated market, because they’re much less likely to be found out and lose their ability to legally own a gun. It’s ridiculous that we’re enforcing a policy that benefits the black market most of all, but given the recent push to ban legal vaping products (which will also push people to the black market), I don’t see much hope or help coming from lawmakers any time soon.