U.S. appeals court: Medical marijuana patients can't purchase firearms

In a little over a month, voters here in Florida will be asked to decide whether the state should join the ranks of 25 other states in legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. While attitudes toward legalizing the drug for medicinal -- and even recreational -- purposes have changed considerably across much of the nation in recent years, the federal government has remained steadfast in its belief that marijuana is illegal for any purpose.

By way of example, consider that the DEA still classifies marijuana as a schedule I drug, meaning it has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, and that the ATF is still actively enforcing a law passed by Congress back in 1968 prohibiting an "unlawful user and/or an addict of any controlled substance" from purchasing or possessing a firearm.

Interestingly enough, this nearly 50-year-old law was recently at the center of a case before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that examined whether the extension of this law to medical marijuana patients was violative of their rights under the Second Amendment.

The case in question was brought by a Nevada woman who attempted to purchase a handgun back in 2011 only to be denied by the storeowner after her holding of a state-issued medical marijuana card was uncovered. For her part, the woman argued that she didn't actually use marijuana, but rather held a card as a political statement.

The storeowner's actions came on the heels of the issuance of an open letter from the ATF to licensed firearms dealers across the nation indicating that upon learning of a person's medical marijuana card, a dealer has "reasonable cause to believe" that the person is an unlawful drug user who therefore should not be sold a firearm.

In a 3-0 ruling, the 9th Circuit affirmed a district court's finding that both the federal law in question and the ATF's open letter survived intermediate scrutiny in that the federal government's substantial interest in deterring gun violence and the fit between the challenged provisions was reasonable.

Indeed, the 9th Circuit held that the federal law in question passes constitutional muster, as those who hold a medical marijuana card could reasonably be assumed to be marijuana users, and that marijuana use increases the possibility of risky or dangerous behavior.

"It is beyond dispute that illegal drug users, including marijuana users, are likely as a consequence of that use to experience altered or impaired mental states that affect their judgment and that can lead to irrational or unpredictable behavior," reads the opinion.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the decision was not universally embraced, with many groups pointing out the inconsistencies under federal law as they relate to firearm ownership.  

It remains to be seen what happens next, meaning whether the plaintiff will appeal this decision or whether a similar challenge arises in another circuit.

Stay tuned for updates …

If you are under investigation or have been arrested on federal weapons-related or drug-related charges, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible as the stakes are simply too high. 

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