Medical Marijuana Patients Denied Second Amendment Rights

The Second Amendment, which guarantees citizens’ right to keep and bear arms, is one of the more controversial in our U.S. Constitution. It’s been the source of much contention in our nation in recent years, but the fact remains: It is still considered a fundamental right. gavel211

Now, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has issued a ruling saying it is a right that should be denied to users of medical marijuana. In Wilson v. Lynch et al., the court ruled that a federal law that prohibits medical marijuana cardholders from buying firearms does not actually violate those patients’ Second Amendment rights because users of marijuana are prone to behavior that is “irrational” and “unpredictable.”

The case stemmed from a lawsuit filed by a Nevada woman who sought to buy a handgun five years ago. However, she was refused the sale after the owner of the store recognized her as being a medical marijuana patient. Plaintiff asserted that in fact, she didn’t really use marijuana, but obtained a medical marijuana card in order to make a political statement, saying she supports the liberalization of marijuana laws nationally. 

Federal law does have a say here. The statute indicates guns can’t be bought by individuals who are either addicts or unlawful users of any controlled substance. Back in 2011, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) issued a clarification indicating this provision did apply to users of marijuana, even if their state had passed laws authorizing legal access and use of the drug for medicinal purposes.

Plaintiff argued this was inherently unfair and violated her Constitutional rights. The 9th DCA disagreed, finding it “beyond dispute” that users of “illegal drugs” – including those who use cannabis – are likely as a consequence of their use to be unpredictable and irrational. Further, regardless of whether plaintiff was actually a user of the drug, the fact that she was a cardholder was reasonable grounds on which to assume she was a user and deny her access to buy a gun.

Of course, our marijuana lawyers know this reasoning didn’t just appear out of thin air. There is a long history of painting marijuana users as unstable and potentially violent. In fact, the 9th DCA based much of its reasoning on the 2004 decision by the 4th DCA in U.S. v. Carter. In that case, justices cited several studies in which users of marijuana (though mostly users of marijuana plus other substances, like alcohol, cocaine and heroin) were more prone to “violent episodes” and arrests.

Interestingly, in the Carter case, the 4th DCA expressly stated that the issue of correlation versus causation was irrelevant, and that a correlation was a fair legal basis on which to deny the purchase of firearms. But researchers have criticized this approach. For example, cigarette smokers might be more likely than non-smokers to commit crimes. Yet the cigarettes in and of themselves are not the cause of the higher crime rates among users.

The 9th DCA turned around to say that causation was in fact a consideration for its findings and that irrational behavior could be a consequence of using the drug. However, there is a far stronger link to suggest that alcohol intoxication has a much stronger link to violence than marijuana. In fact, there have been some studies indicating use of marijuana may actually decrease violent tendencies.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

Additional Resources:

Why medical marijuana patients can’t buy guns, Sept. 7, 2016, By Christopher Ingraham, The Washington Post

More Blog Entries:

Lack of Diversity in Medical Marijuana Licenses Raises Concern, Sept. 12, 2016, Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog