Monday is a crucial deadline for marijuana policy reform bills in Maryland. HB 1264, which would let Marylanders vote on regulating marijuana for adults, needs to move out of the House Judiciary Committee by then to stay alive this year. HB 602, a bill that would protect the rights of Maryland’s medical cannabis patients, must be voted on by the Senate in order to “cross over” to the House of Delegates and move forward during this session.
If approved by 60% of both chambers of the Maryland Legislature, HB 1264 would place a constitutional amendment on the November 2018 ballot that would make possession and home cultivation of limited amounts of cannabis legal for adults 21 years of age and older and require the state to establish regulations and taxation for a legal cannabis market, as well as to ensure diversity in the cannabis industry.
HB 602 would ensure that patients don't lose their Second Amendment rights under state law simply because medical cannabis helps them with their serious illness. Regardless of what you think about Maryland’s gun laws, no patient should have to lose any of their legal rights because of their status as a patient. This is of particular concern to veterans, who may be dissuaded from trying medical cannabis — a much safer alternative to the opioids they are frequently prescribed for pain or PTSD — because they don’t want to lose these rights.
We are all used to the federal government offering only limited deference to states when it comes to medical marijuana. And we are certainly used to it refusing to admit that patients have a legal right to use marijuana for medical purposes, or even that marijuana has medical value at all.
Apparently, it also thinks that those who are abiding by state law and using medical marijuana do not have certain constitutional rights, either.
In a memo issued last week by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the federal government asserted that it is a violation of federal law to possess a gun or ammunition if you are a marijuana user. This broad definition also includes individuals who are state-legal medical marijuana patients.
It is important to note that this is only the opinion of the BATFE and is not legally binding. A case dealing with this issue for an individual patient has not been taken up on a federal level, yet many who are charged with federal marijuana violations often find themselves facing additional firearms charges extending from searches of their property. The Department of Justice has so far kept fairly close to its word when it comes to leaving medical marijuana patients alone, but one could easily imagine a situation in which a firearm violation could be used to prosecute a particularly meddlesome patient who may not be doing anything involving marijuana that would warrant investigation.
It is also important to remember that the federal government cannot force state and local law enforcement to enforce federal law. For example, the DEA can’t make the Colorado state police ignore their medical marijuana laws and start arresting patients for violating the Controlled Substances Act. So don’t start worrying that just because you have a medical marijuana card, you are about to be raided because you own a firearm. In fact, a court decision in Oregon ruled that states have every right to allow patients to possess firearms and may even grant them concealed-carry licenses if they wish.
However, federal law enforcement does reserve the right to charge you with firearms violations if you are a patient and own a gun. This should be no more worrisome in practical terms than the Department of Justice asserting that it has the legal right to charge you with marijuana violations if you are a patient and own some medicine.
This is much more troubling in terms of individual rights and human dignity. The Second Amendment clearly states our rights as citizens to possess firearms. The federal government, however, seems to think that people who use marijuana to treat their illnesses can not only face arrest for doing so, but are also not entitled to the same constitutional rights as everyone else. Regardless of the promises to not target medical marijuana users, it is pretty clear that the government views them as second-class citizens. This discrimination cannot be tolerated in a free society.
The full memo can be viewed here.
Special thanks to Ed Docter from the Montana Cannabis Industry Association for the tip.
UPDATED: Shocking. That's the only word that comes to mind when seeing the video of Todd Blair, 45, gunned down by armed police storming his home on a no-knock raid in Utah last September. Blair, no doubt surprised by the sound of yelling and having his door kicked in, emerges from an interior doorway holding a golf club over his head. Before Blair can react, Sgt. Troy Burnett shoots him three times and Blair slumps to the floor dead.
No "drop the weapon," no "get down on the ground," just bang!, bang!, bang! It's a chilling scene that's over before it started, and all the police found was a small amount of marijuana and an empty vial alleged to have contained other drugs.
This type of raid won't come as a surprise to regular readers of our blog, of course. We see these stories all the time because they're playing out every day in this country at an alarming rate. Lives are ruined and lost, and for what? A few grams of marijuana? It's just another—albiet outrageous—example of how prohibition has failed as a policy at every conceivable turn. If videos like this aren't a sure sign that it's time to end marijuana prohibition and adopt sensible polices like taxation and regulation, then I'm not sure what is. (originally written by John Berry, with updates by Dusty Trice)