In many states across the U.S., citizens are asked to make a choice: get a medical cannabis card or purchase a gun. Some states are taking a stance about the coexistence of medical marijuana and guns.
Medical cannabis is legal in 38 states and four U.S. territories, as well as the District of Columbia. In 2022, the nation’s over 3.5 million registered patients spent upwards of 11.9 billion USD on medical cannabis purchases. However, this number of patients is only an estimate, as it does not account for users in states, such as California and Washington, that do not require registration.
Though medical cannabis is widely accepted for its potential to combat a wide range of symptoms, it is still considered a federally controlled substance. As such, medical cannabis card holders are prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms and ammunition. And they find themselves launched into a nationwide discussion about medical cannabis use and gun ownership.
As medical cannabis grows more and more accepted each day, changes are happening at both the state and federal level. With the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommending the rescheduling of cannabis – and some states taking a stand to allow registered medical cannabis users to purchase guns – federal prohibition of gun ownership by registered patients is in a tenuous state.
Below, explore federal law and which states allow medical marijuana users to own firearms.
Federal Law Explained: Medical Marijuana and Guns
Mandatory firearms transaction forms ask whether or not applicants are “unlawful users” of cannabis or any drug federally categorized as a controlled substance. This question includes medical marijuana patients – though they are technically lawful users of the plant.
This question dates back to 1968 when the Federal Gun Control Act was published. This law made it illegal for a person who is an unlawful user of or is addicted to narcotics or any other controlled substances to purchase or possess a firearm and/or ammunition.
The later passage of the Federal Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1997 clarified that medical marijuana is still considered a controlled substance. Therefore, registered medical cannabis patients cannot ship, transport, receive, or possess firearms or ammunition.
In an open letter to All Federal Firearms Licensees, The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives clarified that, because marijuana is listed in the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I controlled substance, there are no exceptions in federal law for marijuana used for medicinal purposes, even if such use is sanctioned by the state.
State vs. Federal Law: Which States Allow Medical Marijuana Users to Possess a Firearm?
With more and more research coming out every single day about the medicinal and therapeutic potential of cannabis, many states are granting medical cannabis patients and registered caregivers the right to purchase and possess firearms.
However, such measures do not prevent federal prosecutions, creating contradictions in the law and sparking a larger conversation about medical marijuana and guns. The following states allow medical marijuana patients to purchase guns.
According to the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act and Senate Bill 2095, neither a state nor a local government may prohibit medical marijuana users from purchasing or owning a handgun.
Section 8 (3) of the Act states: “a registered qualifying patient or registered designated caregiver shall not be denied the right to own, purchase or possess a firearm, firearm accessory or ammunition based solely on his or her status as a registered qualifying patient or registered designated caregiver…”
The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act, also known as the Unity Bill, utilizes similar language to clarify their medical cannabis law. The act states that medical marijuana patient or caregiver licensee shall not be denied the right to own, purchase, or possess a firearm, ammunition, or firearm accessories based solely on his or her status as a medical marijuana patient or caregiver licensee.
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The Act also notes that no state or local agency, municipal or county governing authority shall restrict, revoke, suspend, or otherwise infringe upon the right of a person to own, purchase, or possess a firearm, ammunition, or firearm accessories, or any related firearms license or certification based solely on their status as a medical marijuana patient or caregiver licensee.
Similarly, Senate Bill 959 touches on Oklahoman’s concealed carry rights. The bill declares that anyone authorized to use medical marijuana would also be allowed to have a concealed carry permit. Current Oklahoma law restricts citizens from handgun license eligibility if they have any violation relating to illegal drug use or possession. SB 959 clarifies that this prohibition does not apply to applicants or licensees in possession of a medical marijuana card.
Safety is still at the forefront of Oklahoma legislation, however. The measure makes it illegal for a person to carry or use a gun while under the influence of medical marijuana.
While Delaware is less explicit about their allowance of medical cannabis users to own guns, the law shifted slightly when the state legalized recreational cannabis. A recently passed statute removed possession of cannabis from the list of circumstances that prohibit someone from having a gun under state law.
AR Amendment 98 officially took effect in July 2023. This amendment clarified that medical marijuana patients can obtain concealed carry licenses for firearms.
The newly effective law declares that a person’s status as a qualified medical cannabis patient in the state cannot be used “in determining whether an applicant is eligible to be issued a license to carry a concealed handgun.”
State statute has also been amended to clarify that participation in the medical marijuana program doesn’t mean that a person is a chronic or habitual user of a controlled substance, which could otherwise disqualify people from obtaining the concealed carry permit.
According to Arizona law, if you have a medicinal need for cannabis and are registered as a patient with the state, you are considered a lawful user. Therefore, registered medical cannabis patients will not prohibited from purchasing a gun by the state.
Moreover, neither the Arizona Department of Health Services, not a medical marijuana doctor in the state are permitted to question AZ citizens about their gun ownership status.
Minnesota recently legalized recreational cannabis in 2023. Under the respective Minnesota adult-use cannabis law, which took effect July 1, 2023, a person may not be denied the right to own, possess or carry firearms based on their status as a patient in the medical cannabis registry program – or on the basis that the person is 21 years of age or older and uses adult-use cannabis products.
However, the law iterates that law enforcement agencies should consult with their city or county attorney about local expectations regarding medical cannabis and gun ownership.
What Would Rescheduling Cannabis Look Like For Gun Owners?
Despite years of science indicating marijuana’s medicinal potential, many Americans are still forced to make the choice between gun ownership and accessing the medicine that they rely on for debilitating conditions.
As a result of the federal law that prohibits the coexistence of medical marijuana and guns, these Americans could be pushed to buy their medicine from the black market. As a result, these patients are forced to stay in the dark about where their medical cannabis has been grown and whether it has been safely tested.
With the hope of rescheduling on the horizon, the potential for registered medical cannabis patients to legally purchase and possess firearms is closer than ever. All eyes are on Capitol Hill to determine the next legislative move within this realm.
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