Drug Law

Oregon: Medical Marijuana Users Do have Gun Rights

| by Marijuana Policy Project

Back in January, this blog mentioned a case in which an anti-marijuana sheriff in Jackson County, Oregon, was trying to deny the renewal of a concealed handgun permit for Cynthia Willis, a licensed medical marijuana patient.

The sheriff was so adamant about the case that he took it all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court. His primary argument was that granting a concealed handgun license to a patient (or in his terms, drug user) would be a violation of the Federal Gun Control Act. This law makes it illegal for anyone using or possessing an illegal drug to own or use a firearm. And of course, the federal government still considers marijuana in any form to be illegal.

Today, the court ruled unanimously that being a medical marijuana patient does not strip a person of his or her constitutional rights, at least as far as state law is concerned. From the court’s opinion:

Congress did not directly require the states to use their gun licensing mechanisms for the purpose of keeping guns out of the hands of marijuana users, and we conclude that Congress did not intend to achieve that same result by making it illegal for medical marijuana users to possess guns. The state’s decision not to use its gun licensing mechanism as a means of enforcing federal law does not pose an obstacle to the enforcement of that law. Federal officials can effectively enforce the federal prohibition on gun possession by marijuana users by arresting and turning over for prosecution those who violate it.

Ultimately, then, we reject the sheriffs’ contention that, to the extent that ORS 166.291 requires county sheriffs to issue CHLs to qualified applicants without regard to their use of medical marijuana, the statute is preempted by the federal prohibition on gun possession by marijuana users at 18 USC section 922(g)(3). The sheriffs cannot justify their denial of the applications at issue on that ground.

Basically, this means that because the Oregon gun licensing law does not substantially interfere with the ability of federal officials to enforce their gun control law, Oregon’s law is not pre-empted and is valid.

The sheriff, being a state law enforcement official, must abide by state law and issue canceled handgun licenses to anyone who qualifies under Oregon law, even if that individual wouldn’t qualify under the federal scheme.

Because being a medical marijuana patient is not grounds for refusal of a permit in Oregon, the sheriff must grant Ms. Willis’s concealed handgun permit even though she would still be liable under federal law for having a gun while using “illicit narcotics.”

Sound familiar?

It should. Check out the case of Gonzalez v. Raich (2005), which established that the federal government is free to enforce their marijuana laws despite California’s right to exempt medical marijuana users and caregivers from state criminal liability.