Twenty-nine states have legalized access to medical marijuana since California took the plunge in 1996. Maryland is the most recent to join the list. But now its residents must decide between treating their illness and keeping their firearms.
Unfortunately, many marijuana users don’t realize they need to make a choice, Mark Pennak, president of the gun-rights group Maryland Shall Issue, told the Baltimore Sun.
“This state hasn’t been very active with putting people on notice,” he said. “I think the states really ought to be warning people … who are about to get their medical marijuana cards that they’re about to lose their rights under federal law.”
It is illegal under federal law to own a firearm while taking medical marijuana. But as states continue to legalize both medical and recreational use of the drug, gun owners find themselves caught between state and national policies governing drugs and firearms.
The Honolulu Police Department recently issued a letter to approximately 30 gun owners and marijuana users demanding that they turn in their firearms. The HPD has since backed down from enforcing that policy. But it shows how marijuana cards and gun registries can combine to restrict an individual’s constitutional rights. (Hawaii residents must register all firearms.)
Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national group that advocates liberalizing marijuana laws, told the Baltimore Sun that medical use of the drug should not be a barrier to gun ownership.
“In general, we think medical marijuana patients should have the same rights as other law-abiding Americans,” he said.
One solution frequently cited would treat medical marijuana use like alcohol. No shooting when you’re high.
“You don’t drink when you’re using firearms,” Former state Del. Mike Smigiel told the Sun. “I don’t know that it’s any different.”
Whatever the states decide to do, gun owners need to understand how their medical decisions might affect their Second Amendment rights. According to Pennak, Maryland needs to do a better job clarifying those questions.
“I just want people to be aware,” Pennak, a former Justice Department lawyer, told the Sun. “There’s so many ins and outs to gun laws, so many pitfalls and traps, this is probably one that’s easily overlooked.”
“The prosecutor is not your friend,” he said. “Don’t think he’s going to give you a break because you’re a good guy.”