Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. That much we know. So even when states give the green light to medical marijuana, they are not truly legalizing anything. They are simply choosing to look the other way as people break federal law. That leads to another question: should medical marijuana users be able to own guns?
It is a reasonable question given the fact that people who use substances on the Schedule I list are not allowed to possess firearms. They also aren’t allowed to drive commercial trucks across state lines for interstate commerce purposes. The conflicts between federal and state laws further demonstrate the need for lawmakers to get it together and reconcile things.
Winding Its Way through the Courts
The argument over medical marijuana and gun ownership is finally winding its way through the courts. In one case brought before the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, the court found the federal government’s ban on firearm possession among medical cannabis users unconstitutional.
A similar case brought in Florida is still undecided. A lower court ruled in favor of the federal government but, on appeal, the Circuit Court seems to be split on the issue. We will have to wait to see how that court eventually rules. If it joins the 5th Circuit by issuing a similar ruling, there could be nationwide impacts. Otherwise, the case is likely to go to the Supreme Court for some sort of reconciliation.
Not Just Private Citizens
The court rulings will mainly affect private citizens regardless of how things turn out. But they could impact public sector employees as well, particularly law enforcement officers. The importance of those rulings is easily understood by looking at how the states treat medical marijuana consumption.
Out in Utah, the owners of marijuana dispensary Beehive Farmacy say that only medical cannabis is allowed. Recreational marijuana consumption remains illegal. Beehive personnel say that state lawmakers passed a law a couple of years ago barring discrimination against government employees with valid medical cannabis cards.
Subsequent regulations went on to bar any such discrimination in the public sector. Public-sector employees must now treat medical cannabis consumption the same way they do the consumption of any prescription medication. The one exception is law enforcement.
Due to federal law, Utah law enforcement agencies are barred from hiring anyone who uses medical cannabis as an officer due to the restrictions on cannabis users possessing firearms. Simply put, Utah law enforcement officers cannot hold medical cannabis cards. They cannot use cannabis in any form.
Firearm Regulation Is a Sticky Issue
No one should be surprised by the firearm restrictions placed on medical cannabis users. Firearm regulation is a sticky issue in this country and has been for the better part of 50 years. Only recently has the Supreme Court stepped up in an effort to pull the reins back on states that have taken their right to regulate firearms too far.
At issue in the medical marijuana arena is whether a person’s Second Amendment rights outweigh the government’s ability to restrict firearm possession based on substance consumption. The Second Amendment addresses only the right to keep and bear arms. It says nothing about marijuana, alcohol, felony convictions, etc.
While federal courts have consistently upheld the states’ right to regulate how the Second Amendment is applied within their jurisdictions, they have also ruled states must take the least restrictive path toward regulation. Prohibiting gun ownership among medical marijuana users may be a step too far. It appears as though the Supreme Court will ultimately have to decide.