In the current battle between medical marijuana users and the federal government over the use of marijuana, it appears that the Feds have managed to score a recent victory. This victory was granted by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which is known as the most liberal of the federal appellate courts.
The Ninth Circuit recently held that a gun store in Nevada did not violate a medical marijuana cardholder’s Second Amendment right by refusing to sell the person a gun on the grounds that she is a user of a controlled substance. Even though the state of Nevada has permitted marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes since 2000, marijuana is still a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. This means that it is illegal to grow, sell, buy, or use marijuana, even as a medicine, under federal law.
Firearm merchants are prohibited from selling guns to users of controlled substances, including users of marijuana, by the Gun Control Act. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) issued a regulation barring anyone who has a medical marijuana card from purchasing a firearm based on the assumption that the cardholder is most likely a medical marijuana user.
When S. Rowena Wilson went to go buy a firearm a week after the regulation was issued, the gun store informed her that she was prohibited from buying a gun because she was a medical marijuana card holder. Ms. Wilson sued the ATF, claiming that the regulation violated her Second Amendment right to possess a firearm.
Rowena Wilson’s lawsuit against the ATF is based on the notion that people should not be barred from buying firearms just based on their possession of a medical marijuana card, without actual proven use of medical marijuana. Unlike most medical marijuana cardholders, Ms. Wilson claims that she does not actually use medical marijuana and, thus, is not a user of marijuana as a controlled substance. Thus, the assumption that the regulation is based on is not one that is necessarily true about Ms. Wilson and should not have prevented her from obtaining a firearm.
However, the Ninth Circuit found that the regulation did not violate Ms. Wilson’s 2nd Amendment right to possess a gun severely enough so as to require the regulation to be invalidated. The court stated that Ms. Wilson could have easily purchased firearms prior to acquiring her medical marijuana card. The regulation does not prohibit possessors of medical marijuana cards from owning or using guns, meaning that they are not violating the regulation by holding onto firearms that they acquired before getting medical marijuana cards. Thus, anyone who possessed a medical marijuana card but did not actually use medical marijuana, such as Ms. Wilson, could still use a firearm to defend themselves in the manner guaranteed by the Second Amendment.
Although Ms. Wilson intends to appeal the 9th Circuit’s decision, for now the court’s ruling broadens the prohibition on who can actually purchase a firearm under the Gun Control Act. Now, people who are merely assumed to be using drugs by simply having a medical marijuana card are also unable to buy a gun, even if they have never actually used or have any intention of using marijuana. Unless the decision is overturned, medical marijuana card possessors residing in California, Nevada, Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, Washington, Oregon, and Arizona are now prohibited by law from buying any new firearms.
If you have questions about the regulation or are concerned that the court ruling may negatively impact you, contact a criminal defense lawyer.
Authored by Kristen Johnson, LegalMatch Legal Writer