In 2016 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Wilson v. Lynch (9th Cir. Case No. 14-15799) that medical marijuana cardholders are prohibited from purchasing firearms based on federal regulations. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) sent an Open Letter to gun dealers in 2011 stating that, “If you are aware that the potential transferee is in possession of a card authorizing the possession and use of marijuana under State law, then you have ‘reasonable cause to believe’ that the person is an unlawful user of a controlled substance. As such, you may not transfer firearms or ammunition to the person.”
Wilson, a Nevada resident with a state-issued medical marijuana card, went to buy a firearm in her small town just days after the ATF letter was received by her local gun dealer. The owner knew that she was a medical marijuana card holder and refused to sell her a firearm based on the ATF regulation. She filed suit alleging that the ATF rule violated her First, Second, and Fifth Amendment rights. The case was dismissed by lower courts (twice) and on her second appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the case.
Wilson’s Second Amendment rights were not violated because the letter and ATF regulation does not outlaw possession, only the purchase of firearms while in possession of a medical marijuana card. State issued medical marijuana cards are not federally recognized, and users of the Schedule 1 controlled substance (marijuana) are classified federally as “unlawful drug users.”
The government says that drug users, specifically marijuana users, are more likely to commit acts of violence. Is there empirical research to support this finding? No, but the government referenced a discussion of drug use and violence in a prior case (U.S. v. Carter, 750 F.3d 462 (4th Cir. 2014) that provides a “reasonable relationship and common sense” between marijuana use and violence. This, the court concludes, supports the state’s interest in controlling who may legally buy a firearm.
Wait a minute! Are marijuana users really more likely to resort to violence? I thought they were more likely to resort to brownies and Cheetos and other munchie ending foods! But violence? Among the medical M-card holding crew? Sounds like a stretch to me, and that is likely one reason I do not sit on any circuit (or other) court.
Wilson’s other constitutional arguments went nowhere. she argued that she does not use marijuana, but has the card for political purposes to support the legalization of marijuana, which is an act of free speech. The court held that the government’s firearm purchase restriction does not violate her First Amendment right. She has many other methods to vocalize her support for the legalization of marijuana and purchasing a firearm is not a “communicative” method. So too the fifth amendment claim – there is no constitutional right to hold the card and buy a gun simultaneously.
To exercise her Second Amendment rights Wilson could forfeit her card and lawfully purchase a firearm, or she could have purchased a firearm before obtaining the card and be in possession of a firearm. The federal government’s interest in regulating firearm sales, according to the 9th, outweighs her right to purchase a gun.
So there you have it. If you have a medical marijuana card, you can be prohibited from purchasing a gun. If you have a gun already, apparently not an issue. Sometimes the laws make sense and other times… not so much!