It’s a sticky subject (sorry for the bad pun), but the legalization of cannabis is causing some headaches for lawmakers and gun owners who say that current federal law makes them choose between their Second Amendment rights, and the medical marijuana they use to treat their ailments.
Pennsylvania officials have been wrestling with this issue for months now, and WESA in Pittsburgh recently ran a good story on how the conflict between federal law and state law is playing out in the lives of individual Pennsylvanians.
Nancy Black has a host of health problems, including arthritis, fibromyalgia and asthma, and she used to have to take opioids every 12 hours for her pain. However, in 2018 she decided to stop taking her medication, which included OxyContin, and to use medical marijuana instead.
“There’s no easy days when you have [those] kind of [health problems], but I’m taking something safer now, and I feel better,” Black said.
Black is 72 years old, and said her grandson, Shane Murphy, would plead for her to try to use marijuana for her pain.
“I said no because it was illegal and I was a role model,” she said. “Well, it’s legal now and I’m still a role model.”
After getting a medical marijuana card last year, she’s the one advocating for cannabis use and full legalization.
“I just think it’s funny because back in the day I used to be like ‘this is [cannabis strain] White Widow, this is a Sativa, and she’d be like, ‘okay,’” Murphy said. “Now she walks in the dispensary, ‘this is White Widow, this is…’ it’s just funny to see where things are now.”
And now, it’s Black who is pushing for Murphy to get his own medical marijuana card. But he refuses to because it would mean he would lose the right to own guns.
“That’s the only reason I don’t have a medical card is simply because I’m not willing to give up my concealed carry,” he said.
Because of the federal prohibition on medical and recreational marijuana, even those who have a medical marijuana card run into conflict with state and federal law when they apply for a concealed carry license or even purchase a firearm at retail. As WESA reports, there’ve been a few attempts to change the laws around the country to ensure individuals don’t lose their Second Amendment rights if they use medical marijuana, but they haven’t gone anywhere.
Some lawmakers are attempting to address the issue. Congressman Alex Mooney (R-W.VA) introduced legislation that would exempt medical marijuana cardholders from the federal ban, and allow them to own firearms. The bill was introduced in April and has been mostly stagnant since. Other legislators in states like Maryland are also trying to pass legislation to exempt medical cannabis users from being banned from owning firearms.
Meanwhile, Shane Murphy said he is considering waiting for the state to legalize marijuana recreationally.
“I believe that once it becomes recreational, there will be a lot more leniency with it,” Murphy said.
Some politicians, including Pennsylvania Lt. Governor John Fetterman, don’t seem to think it’s an issue. He told WESA that since medical records “can’t be released or disseminated without your consent,” he doesn’t think the state would have the ability to legally cross-check the records of medical marijuana licensees with individuals attempting to purchase a firearm or receive a concealed carry license.
I’m not so sure about that, and I have a feeling a number of lawmakers in anti-gun states would love to see if in fact it’s possible. After all, back in 2017 police in Honolulu, Hawaii told licensed medical marijuana users that they would have to hand over their registered firearms, before backing off and instead decided to deny firearms licenses to medical marijuana users instead.
The issue will go away entirely when cannabis is eventually and inevitably legalized at the federal level, but until then, this conflict between state drug policy and federal law is going to ensnare all those who are forced to choose between their health and their rights. Additionally, the conflict will inevitably drive some individuals to the black market for their cannabis, in order to avoid registering with the state as a medical marijuana user.
I’ve written before about my wife’s ongoing fight with cancer, and as she’s getting ready to go back on chemotherapy in a few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue. I’m sure that in the new year Virginia’s Democrats will either decriminalize or legalize cannabis while they’re merrily infringing on the right to keep and bear arms. If I had to guess, my bet would be that any bill removing criminal penalties for cannabis will include an exception for gun owners.
Even if they don’t outlaw gun ownership for cannabis users at the state level, there’s still a federal prohibition on cancer patients like my wife being able to use marijuana to help her with the nausea that can leave her vomiting for a half-hour or more, or the lack of appetite that, combined with her nausea, can lead to unhealthy weight loss when she needs to be building up her strength.
The easiest thing to do in a divided Congress would be to pass Rep. Mooney’s bill to allow medical marijuana users to continue to exercise their Second Amendment rights. Given today’s impeachment vote and the bitter rancor between both parties at the moment, I wouldn’t hold my breath that Mooney’s bill has a chance of passage in the near future.