Medical Marijuana Patients Must Choose: Their Prescription or Their Firearms

Filed under: Criminal Law by Contributor @ May 20, 2018

Pennsylvania recently joined several other states in passing a law permitting the use of medical marijuana as treatment for certain serious medical conditions and illnesses. As a new state to operate a medical marijuana program, authorities are warning patients that federal law bars users of marijuana, still a Schedule 1 drug under Federal Law, from having guns or ammunition. Marijuana, because of its status as a controlled substance, bars users from purchasing, acquiring, or possessing a firearm.

When purchasing a firearm, prospective purchasers must fill out forms and submit them to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (“ATF”). ATF spokeswoman Cherie R. Duvall-Jones stated that “[t]here are no exceptions in federal law for marijuana purportedly used for medicinal purposes, even if such use is sanctioned by state law.” In the Ninth Circuit case, Wilson v. Lynch, patient S. Rowan Wilson acquired a medical marijuana registry card and was subsequently denied her attempt to purchase a firearm. The district court dismissed her complaint and the appellate court affirmed the dismissal.

Prospective gun purchasers must first fill out a Form 4473, a firearms transaction record required by the U.S. Department of Justice. Question 11(e) of Form 4473 asks: “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance? Warning: The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside.”

Answering this question truthfully, by checking yes, means that medical marijuana patients’ applications will be denied. If a patient does not answer this question truthfully, he or she will be subject to criminal sanctions, which include perjury and illegal possession of a firearm.

In Pennsylvania, after filling out the Form 4473, firearms dealers must conduct a background check on each customer, which is then cross-referenced with a registry of Medical Marijuana Card Holders. Registered card holders are flagged and not allowed to purchase firearms. It is at  this stage where patients who answered untruthfully on their application will incur criminal sanctions.

Federal law may also affect a patient’s ability to obtain or renew a license to carry a firearm. Depending on the future of relevant laws and caselaw, it may be unlawful to keep or possess a firearm that one owned or possessed prior to obtaining a medical marijuana card. Many jurisdictions are disallowing guns for new patients, but not tracking down patients and asking for surrender of their guns.


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Pennsylvania’s recent legalization of medical marijuana presents problems for those seeking to purchase firearms because marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 drug under Federal law. The nuance of what this means for current gun owners and medical marijuana patients is still being litigated. If you have any concerns about your second amendment rights and patient status, call Fairlie & Lippy P.C. at (215) 997-1000.

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