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Medical Marijuana and Guns

With the recent changes in Maryland law concerning medical marijuana, see MD Code, Health - General, § 13-3304 et seq., and the push to legalize the use of marijuana in Maryland, a recurring issue is how such marijuana use would affect your Second Amendment rights.  The short answer is that it may well act to abrogate those rights by (1) barring a FFL from selling a firearm to such a user and (2), by making such a user a prohibited person under federal law.

1.  As to FFLs, the pertinent statutory provision under federal law is 18 U.S.C. 922(d)(3), which provides:

(d) It shall be unlawful for any person to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such person--

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(3) is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802));

The ATF has issued a bulletin to all Federal Firearms Licensees that advises FFLs that "if you are aware that the potential transferee is in possession of a card authorizing the possession and use of marijuana under State law, then you have 'reasonable cause to believe' that the person is an unlawful user of a controlled substance."   See Open Letter to All Federal Firearms Licensees, Sept. 21, 2011, available at www.atf.gov/file/60211/download.  That means that the FFL (or any other person with such knowledge) is prohibited from selling a firearm to such a person with a medical marijuana card.  Indeed, both federal form 4473 and state form 77R specifically state that medical marijuana users may not purchase firearms.  

2.  As to becoming a disqualified person, a user of marijuana may well be a disqualified person under 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(3) which states:

(g) It shall be unlawful for any person--

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(3) who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802)); to ship or transport in interstate or foreign commerce, or possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.

A violation of these provisions is a felony.  See 18 U.S.C. 924. Both of these provisions define the term "unlawful user" by reference to the Controlled Substances Act, a federal law. A "controlled substance" under federal law specifically includes marijuana as marijuana is specifically classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. § 812(c).  See also ATF regulations 27 C.F.R. § 478.11. A user of marijuana is an unlawful user under that federal law. Period.  Indeed, while the medical marijuana law of Maryland permits the use of marijuana under the tightly controlled circumstances specified in that law, the mere possession of marijuana in Maryland remains otherwise illegal in any other circumstance. See Robinson v. State, 451 Md. 94 (2017). That is so even though possession of small amounts of marijuana has also been decriminalized in Maryland. See Robinson, 451 Md. at 98 ("Simply put, decriminalization is not synonymous with legalization, and possession of marijuana remains unlawful.").

3.  While the government does not have free rein in what it can illegalize under the Second Amendment (see, e.g., United States v. Chovan, 735 F.3d, 1127 (9th Cir. 2013) (Bea, J. concurring), these provisions have withstood attack in the courts. For example, the Ninth Circuit (a very liberal circuit) has sustained this federal disqualification in the context of medical marijuana users on grounds that "empirical data and legislative determinations support a strong link between drug use and violence. As to the first, studies and surveys relied on in similar cases suggest a significant link between drug use, including marijuana use, and violence. See United States v. Carter, 750 F.3d 462, 466–69 (4th Cir. 2014) (citing and discussing four studies and two government surveys); United States v. Yancey, 621 F.3d 681, 686 (7th Cir. 2010) (per curiam) (citing all but one of the studies and surveys in Carter, plus one additional study). "  Wilson v. Lynch, 835 F.3d 1083, 1093 (9th Cir. 2016). The court concluded that Congress reached a "reasonable conclusion that the use of such drugs [including marijuana] raises the risk of irrational or unpredictable behavior with which gun use should not be associated."  Id at 1094. It is certainly within the power of Congress to change federal law, but until it does, marijuana users remain "unlawful users" of a controlled substance under federal law, regardless of whether such use is permitted by state law.  Of course, the states would have to change their laws as well, as the classification of "unlawful user" includes both federal and state laws.

 

Latest News

Appeal in Handgun Qualification License Lawsuit Filed

Appeal in Handgun Qualification License Lawsuit Filed

On June 24th 2019, Maryland Shall Issue, Atlantic Guns, and the individual plaintiffs filed our opening brief to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit from the district court’s dismissal in our challenge of the Handgun Qualification License. The District Court held that none of the plaintiffs had standing to complain about the HQL. In doing so, the court ignored much of the evidence of record, impermissibly acted as a fact finder on summary judgment and committed numerous errors of law in order to reach the result it did. You can read the newly filed brief HERE.

The State has 30 days to file their Brief of Appellees (the State will likely request an extension -- they always do) and we will then file a Reply brief in response. Oral argument before a 3-judge panel will then be scheduled for some months later in Richmond, VA. We will share those developments as they become available.

We firmly believe that the HQL only exists to burden and discourage law-abiding Marylanders from exercising their individual right to acquire a handgun for lawful self-defense. The suppression and rationing of ownership of guns has been the State's objective for years. Yet, unsurprisingly, the State's never ending attempt to illegalize guns has neither lessened crime nor made Maryland a safer place for people to live. One need only look to the years of increased violence in Baltimore for grim evidence of that. All that has been accomplished is to make it expensive and difficult for ordinary individuals to protect themselves and their families. As always, MSI will always stand up and push back against laws and policies that put the right of self defense out of reach from those who need it most.

Your generous support of MSI is what makes all this possible. Consider joining, renewing, or donating to MSI so that we can continue to support self defense and 2nd Amendment rights in Maryland.

Response to “The handgun board that couldn't shoot straight.”

The Sun, in its February 8, 2019 editorial, ably demonstrates once again that it does not grasp the complexity of gun law in Maryland in asserting that the Handgun Permit Review Board somehow has created a “loophole” in Maryland gun law by reversing the Maryland State Police 222 times on handgun wear and carry permits issued by the State Police. 

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