We are all used to the federal government offering only limited deference to states when it comes to medical marijuana. And we are certainly used to it refusing to admit that patients have a legal right to use marijuana for medical purposes, or even that marijuana has medical value at all.
Apparently, it also thinks that those who are abiding by state law and using medical marijuana do not have certain constitutional rights, either.
In a memo issued last week by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the federal government asserted that it is a violation of federal law to possess a gun or ammunition if you are a marijuana user. This broad definition also includes individuals who are state-legal medical marijuana patients.
It is important to note that this is only the opinion of the BATFE and is not legally binding. A case dealing with this issue for an individual patient has not been taken up on a federal level, yet many who are charged with federal marijuana violations often find themselves facing additional firearms charges extending from searches of their property. The Department of Justice has so far kept fairly close to its word when it comes to leaving medical marijuana patients alone, but one could easily imagine a situation in which a firearm violation could be used to prosecute a particularly meddlesome patient who may not be doing anything involving marijuana that would warrant investigation.
It is also important to remember that the federal government cannot force state and local law enforcement to enforce federal law. For example, the DEA can’t make the Colorado state police ignore their medical marijuana laws and start arresting patients for violating the Controlled Substances Act. So don’t start worrying that just because you have a medical marijuana card, you are about to be raided because you own a firearm. In fact, a court decision in Oregon ruled that states have every right to allow patients to possess firearms and may even grant them concealed-carry licenses if they wish.
However, federal law enforcement does reserve the right to charge you with firearms violations if you are a patient and own a gun. This should be no more worrisome in practical terms than the Department of Justice asserting that it has the legal right to charge you with marijuana violations if you are a patient and own some medicine.
This is much more troubling in terms of individual rights and human dignity. The Second Amendment clearly states our rights as citizens to possess firearms. The federal government, however, seems to think that people who use marijuana to treat their illnesses can not only face arrest for doing so, but are also not entitled to the same constitutional rights as everyone else. Regardless of the promises to not target medical marijuana users, it is pretty clear that the government views them as second-class citizens. This discrimination cannot be tolerated in a free society.
The full memo can be viewed here.
Special thanks to Ed Docter from the Montana Cannabis Industry Association for the tip.