Medical Marijuana and Firearms: What You Need to Know
Just over three years ago, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed the law providing patient access to medical marijuana. A review of the Medical Marijuana Act provides information regarding criminal offenses related to it. That said, it does not address whether having legal access to medical marijuana matters when it comes to firearms.
You may already know that the Pennsylvania State Police Firearms Division maintains records related to firearms licensing and transfers. They concede that those who legally obtain marijuana have the right to use it within Pennsylvania. Of course, this specifically refers to individuals who have obtained approved forms of medical marijuana from designated dispensaries.
One problem. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Like it or not, the fact that the Commonwealth authorizes the use in select circumstances means absolutely nothing in the eyes of federal authorities.
Truth be told, even your possession of a valid Medical Marijuana Card represents problems for you. After all, “unlawful use or addiction to any controlled substance” suggests that you are in violation of federal laws. And, yes, marijuana of any kind remains a controlled dangerous substance under the United States Code.
Medical Marijuana: Firearms and Federal Laws
Here’s the catch that you should know about if you have a Medical Marijuana Card in Pennsylvania. It’s both federal statutes and rules that prohibit the legal purchase and use of firearms. In particular, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3) targets the following:
It shall be unlawful for any person…who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802)…
Similarly, the Code of Federal Regulations, referred to as the C.F.R. provides further clarification on a federal level at 27 C.F.R. § 478.32(a)(3):
No person may ship or transport any firearm or ammunition in interstate or foreign commerce, or receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce, or possess any firearm or ammunition in or affecting commerce, who:… is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. 802).
Before medical marijuana even became legal in Pennsylvania, the feds provided their take on firearms in various states. In a 2011 letter to all federal firearms licensees, the United States Department of Justice made it clear. It remains illegal to possess, transfer, or otherwise sell firearms when there is reasonable cause to believe the individual uses or possesses even medicinal controlled substances.
What It Means in Pennsylvania
It may seem like a roundabout way of getting to the bottom line as far as illegal weapons charges. However, Pennsylvania law actually references the federal statutes.
The Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Chapter 18, Section 6109(e)(1)(xiv) specifically references individuals prohibited from possessing or acquiring a firearm under the statutes of the United States. Essentially, if federal law stops you from acquiring a license, you can’t get one in Pennsylvania.
In the meantime, news reports indicate that the Commonwealth’s medical marijuana registry no longer supplies names of patients to law enforcement agents. Previously, the government used these databases in conducting firearms background checks.
The background data isn’t the only concern. The feds specifically address the issue of controlled substances in the Firearms Transaction Record form. The request for information regarding its use requires truthful answers on all accounts. The form includes a bolded warning that:
The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside.
Unfortunately, you may already sense all of this firsthand. Weapons charges are serious ones. If you face them, you need the advice of experienced criminal defense attorneys.
At Mazzoni Valvano Szewczyk & Karam, we can help you sort these type of issues and more. Our attorneys have experience representing the Commonwealth and those facing criminal charges. Contact us to schedule an appointment.