If you own a gun and become approved as a medical marijuana patient, you become a criminal if you don’t discard your weapon.
Change never is easy and the solution to one problem often creates new conflicts that must be addressed or unintended consequences that must be reconciled. We’re seeing that play out now as Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program revs up. People who want to use that program are being forced to make difficult choices in other aspects of their lives.
The latest example, from a recent report by philly.com: If you own a gun and become approved as a medical marijuana patient, you become a criminal if you don’t discard your weapon.
That’s because while marijuana is legal for medicinal purposes in Pennsylvania under state law, the drug remains illegal under federal law. It’s federal law that dictates who can buy and possess guns, and that law bans sales to and possession by someone who is an “unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance.”
Gun buyers must fill out a federal form that asks about marijuana use and notes users’ applications will be denied.
Lying on that form is a federal felony. And the background check system in Pennsylvania presumably would catch you anyway, as state police do the checks and know who has been approved by the state for medical marijuana use.
What state police don’t know, though, is who already owns guns. While it does background checks for purchases and concealed carry permits, it doesn’t keep the information, spokesman Ryan Tarkowski told me Tuesday.
“We don’t know who has what guns out there,” he said. “There’s no list of who owns guns.”
So medical marijuana patients shouldn’t expect a letter or knock on their door asking them to turn over their firearm. But that doesn’t mean they won’t get in trouble for possessing it if its presence becomes known. Tarkowski told me gun owners should consult an attorney. State police also recently published guidance on its website, psp.pa.gov. It’s on the “Firearms information page.”
“Possession of a valid medical marijuana card and/or the use of medical marijuana defines you [as] an ‘unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;’ and, therefore, prohibited by federal law from the purchase or acquisition, possession or control of a firearm,” the website says.
There haven’t been attempts in other states to make people who own guns give them up if they become approved to use medical marijuana, said Morgan Fox, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C.
“In most cases, where localities have said they were going to enforce, it was met with such resistance that these localities tended to drop that request,” he told me Tuesday. “I think that some people out there are probably concerned about it, but I’m not exactly sure how warranted that concern is.”
The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association will be discussing the issue at its meeting next month, Executive Director Richard Long told me.
This isn’t the only way Pennsylvania’s new medical marijuana law creates conflicts with federal law and forces participants to make difficult choices.
The 17 health conditions that can be treated with marijuana include chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. Those conditions are common in veterans but because marijuana is illegal under federal law, veterans cannot use their veterans’ medical benefits to obtain marijuana.
They can pursue medical marijuana treatment outside the Department of Veterans Affairs health system. It would be at their cost, and seeing multiple physicians could make their care more complicated because they would be coordinating with multiple providers.
VA physicians are allowed to discuss medical marijuana use with patients and they will record patients’ marijuana use for treatment planning. But VA staff cannot recommend medical marijuana or complete paperwork for veterans to participate in the state program. VA pharmacies can’t fill medical marijuana prescriptions.
With more states legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes — 29 do now — it’s time for the federal government to take a second look at how its drug and gun laws intersect. Medical marijuana users who get permission to use the drug with the blessing of their physician through state programs shouldn’t be considered illegal and their use shouldn’t interfere with other rights.
As for veterans, while I don’t think the government should pay for medical marijuana or distribute it from its VA pharmacies, I don’t see why VA physicians shouldn’t be allowed to certify their patients as eligible in states where it is legal.
By paul.muschick – The Morning Call
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