The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that federal laws that prohibit drug users from purchasing firearms still apply to medical marijuana users, even in states where marijuana use has been decriminalized for medical or recreational use.
The majority of states have decriminalized marijuana use to some degree. However, at the federal level, the drug is still regulated as a schedule one narcotic, the same as heroin. Because of this, the court upheld the lower court’s ruling that allowed a gun dealer to deny a gun sale to a person with a medical marijuana card.
According to the ATF’s Form 4473 — the background check form — a person who is an unlawful user of marijuana or marijuana addict is not legally allowed to purchase guns from an FFL.
In 2011 an Arizona gun store declined to sell a woman a firearm, even though she had not disclosed her planned marijuana use. The store owner had outside knowledge that the woman, Rowan Wilson, had obtained a medical marijuana card and refused to sell her a gun.
This latest ruling maintains that federal law, not state law, should be followed when buying and selling guns. Marijuana users are not fully stripped of their Second Amendment rights under this ruling, however.
The ruling says that gun dealers aren’t allowed to transfer guns or ammunition to illegal — under federal law — marijuana users. But these people may continue to own guns and maintain their right to self-defense. The court decided that the infringement was not “severe” enough to breach the plaintiff’s constitutional rights.
“Wilson could have amassed legal firearms before acquiring a registry card,” reads the ruling (.pdf). The ATF would “not impede her right to keep her firearms or to use them to protect herself and her home.
“In addition, Wilson could acquire firearms and exercise her right to self-defense at any time by surrendering her registry card, thereby demonstrating to a firearms dealer that there is no reasonable cause to believe she is an unlawful drug user.”
Basically, the court is saying that Wilson could pre-buy guns and ammo, and because of that she maintains her Second Amendment rights. As long as she continues to have and keep her medical marijuana exemption, she cannot buy guns or ammunition.
While federal law may inhibit Wilson’s gun rights, they also prevent federal agencies from prosecuting medical marijuana users. Under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 the Department of Justice is barred from using congressional funds to prosecute cases against individuals in states where marijuana has been decriminalized.
The court maintains that there is a strong link between drug users and violence — the very core of the ban. The law is there to prevent illegal drug users from owning guns. At the same time, the court is seemingly pointing to a new course of action against the federal law.
“The Government argues that [there is] … a strong link between drug use and violence,” argues the court. “Studies and surveys … suggest a significant link between drug use, including marijuana use and violence. While it would have been helpful for the government to provide the studies in this case, Wilson has not challenged their methodology. We therefore have no occasion to evaluate the reliability of the studies and instead accept them.”
“By citing to the link between unlawful drug users and violence in this case, however, the government incorrectly conflates registry cardholders with unlawful drug users,” it continues. “The government’s showings of the links between drug use and violence would be sufficient were we applying intermediate scrutiny.”
The court continues to explain that it’s not what Wilson is challenging but how. “Wilson flatly maintains that she is not an unlawful drug user and is instead challenging a set of laws that bar non-drug users from purchasing firearms.”
No matter how many states, districts and territories decriminalize and regulate marijuana, the federal position on pot and guns remains unchanged. For now, the court maintains that these laws do not completely bar people from exercising their Second Amendment rights — they just can’t buy guns or ammo as long as they use marijuana.
Wilson may attempt to take this to the Supreme Court, although the court has a recent history of upholding statutes and federal law. Realistically, if marijuana users want to buy guns — and gun owners, vice versa — marijuana laws need to change from the top down.