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Medical Marijuana vs. Firearms Ownership in Maryland

Gunowners in Maryland who want to use medical marijuana to treat their conditions have a tough choice to make: Cannabis or guns? Because marijuana is still federally illegal, those using the plant are banned by federal gun laws from owning or buying firearms. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives notified gun dealers years ago, when medical marijuana began gaining ground in other states, that users could not purchase guns. The cannabis vs. guns debate isn’t a Maryland issue per se, because it holds true in any state that has legalized marijuana for medical use. It’s still a difficult decision for the person who must choose between firearms and the possibility of having to return to using opioids for pain relief because they can’t have medical cannabis.

Court Decisions

For those to whom Second Amendment rights are virtually sacred, it’s especially difficult to reconcile the loss of gun rights if deciding to use medical marijuana. The Second Amendment argument has already been made in court cases, and failed. In 2016, the ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the federal ban on gun sales to those using medical marijuana did not violate the Second Amendment. In its 3-0 decision, the court ruled that Congress decided cannabis use “raises the risk of irrational or unpredictable behavior with which gun use should not be associated.” The case resulted from a lawsuit filed by a Nevada woman who had a medical marijuana card and tried to purchase a gun for self-defense in 2011, but was refused. The gun dealer gave her possession of the medical marijuana card as a reason not to permit the sale.

In a 2014 decision, U.S. vs. Carter, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Virginia ruled cited studies showing a correlation between drug use, including cannabis, and violence. However, none of the studies cited addressed the use of marijuana alone and violence, with the exception of one 2004 study published in Developmental Associations that found adolescent males who used marijuana in one year “frequently predicted violence in the subsequent year.” A closer examination of this study shows that marijuana use by age 13 by working class adolescent males was indicative of later aggressive behavior, but “correlations were much stronger between alcohol and aggression than between marijuana and aggression. In this latter study, aggression was measured by a single indicator of minor aggressive behavior.”

Background Checks and Medical Marijuana

Maryland requires background checks for gun purchases. However, medical marijuana patients are protected by HIPAA laws, and their information is private. The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission holds medical marijuana patient data. Unlike some states, Maryland does not put this information into a database that may appear on a background check. While each medical marijuana dispensary has the information on their patients, they cannot release it without the patient’s consent. However, there is a specific question on ATF Form 4474, used for gun purchases, addressing marijuana use. If a medical marijuana user lies on this form, is it not only considered perjury but a felony under federal law. If you’re thinking your medical marijuana registration won’t show up on a background check, you’re probably right, but the consequences if you are wrong are quite severe. Since Maryland law doesn’t address previous gun ownership, a medical marijuana patient who wants to purchase a gun is in the position of the greatest legal jeopardy.

Gun Ownership and DUI

For 13 years, from 1920 to 1933, alcohol was illegal in the U.S. Prohibition was one of the worst social experiments ever foisted on the American public. Alcohol is legal now, as long as the person is over 21. A misdemeanor DUI conviction will not cause the individual to lose their right to own or purchase a firearm. That’s not necessarily the case with a felony DUI conviction. If anyone dies as a result of a DUI accident, the DUI charge automatically becomes a felony. In such cases, the convicted individual will likely lose gun rights. There are also circumstances in which a person is stopped on suspicion of DUI, and drugs, stolen goods or other contraband are found on them. This could also result in a felony conviction and subsequent firearms loss.

Maryland and Recreational Cannabis

Lots of gun owners use cannabis recreationally – and in Maryland, illegally – without losing their rights to firearms. As of 2019, some members of the Maryland General Assembly are working on legal cannabis legislation, and there is public support behind the effort. Legalization is no longer a matter of if, but when. When legalization occurs, it’s likely many medical marijuana users will switch to purchasing cannabis at recreational dispensaries. That eliminates the need for those users to have a medical marijuana card, which means the registration aspect is no longer a problem. As noted, it’s unlikely a gun dealer in Maryland would have access to medical marijuana registration records. If cannabis is still illegal at the federal level when Maryland legalizes weed, gun owners could face issues, especially if found carrying firearms and marijuana at the same time.

Federal Legalization

Perhaps the cannabis vs. guns dilemma will only resolve if and when marijuana is legalized on the federal level. Currently, medical marijuana is legal in 33 states and Washington, D.C, and recreational cannabis is legal in 10 states. More states are considering recreational marijuana legalization, and recreational marijuana became legal in Canada in 2018. Some Democratic contenders for the 2020 Presidential nomination, including Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, support federal cannabis legalization, and Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) introduced legislation in February 2019 to legalize cannabis on the federal level under the title the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act. Cannabis legalization has some bipartisan support, with figures such as former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner advocating for legal weed. Of course, it is impossible to predict whether federal legalization will occur anytime soon, although momentum is apparently building. Until then, Maryland gun owners will have to decide what is more important: The ability to protect themselves with a firearm or finding pain relief with medical marijuana.

For more information about medical marijuana in Maryland, feel free to contact us.