A medical marijuana card holder from Philadelphia has sued the federal government over its ban on possession and purchase of firearms by marijuana users. Doctor Matthew Roman, who runs a medical marijuana practice and holds a card himself, sought to buy a handgun for protection but was prevented from doing so.
Those who purchase guns are required to fill out a Firearms Transaction Record form, also known as Form 4473, which is provided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. On the form is the following question:
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 medical or recreational purposes in the state where you reside.
The form also states that answering yes to this question disqualifies the would-be purchaser from owning a firearm.
The form leaves no room for doubt, but in response to queries, a spokeswoman for the ATF, Janice L. Kemp, reiterated the bureau’s position on the matter: “Any person who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of whether his or her state has passed legislation authorizing marijuana use for medical purposes…is prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition.”
The law in question is found at 18 U.S. Code §922(d)(3), which states that it is against the law for “any person” to sell “any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such person…is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act…).” In addition, the bureau has issued a letter to gun dealers saying “you may not transfer firearms or ammunition” to those who answer yes to the question, and that those who use marijuana legally under state law do so unlawfully under federal law.
Wilson v. Lynch
Roman is not the first person to challenge this law in court. In Wilson v. Lynch (2016), the Ninth Circuit ruled against S. Rowan Wilson, who had been denied a gun purchase after a computer check revealed that she had a medical marijuana card. She claimed that although she had a card, she was not a user of marijuana, since she obtained a card to demonstrate her support for legalization. She argued that the law was unconstitutional in that it violated her rights under the Second and Fifth Amendments. The Ninth Circuit upheld the ATF’s application of Section 922 and denied Wilson’s claim.
It thus seems unlikely that Roman will fare better than Wilson. Roman has, however, tweetedhis support of President Donald Trump, who in turn has tweeted his dismay over the rulings of the Ninth Circuit, which he views as too liberal. While the law has not changed between 2016 and now, the political climate, especially regarding state-legal marijuana, has somewhat. Philadelphia is within the jurisdiction of the Third Circuit; if it rules in a manner contrary to Wilson v. Lynch, the case may well go to the Supreme Court so that the law is not applied differently in different parts of the country.
A search of the NRA’s website yields links to news stories about the prohibition on gun possession or purchase by marijuana users but not a position statement by the NRA on the issue. For now, at least, it seems that the NRA is not ready to rally behind Roman’s cause.