Sheriff appeals ruling on handgun license denial

The Jackson County sheriff is challenging an Oregon Court of Appeals decision that he had no legal basis for denying a concealed handgun license to a medical marijuana cardholder.

Sheriff Mike Winters denied Cynthia Willis' gun permit in 2008, arguing that granting the permit would violate federal laws prohibiting drug users from legally possessing guns.

Upholding an earlier ruling by Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Mark Schiveley, the appeals court in June concluded the sheriff would not break the federal Gun Control Act of 1968 by issuing a handgun permit to Willis based on Oregon's concealed handgun licensing laws. The federal act gives states the authority to set their own rules for gun ownership.

"I'm disappointed Jackson County thinks it's appropriate to expend taxpayer funds to continue with this litigation," said Leland Berger, a Portland attorney who represents Willis. "If the sheriff wants to be able to discriminate against medical marijuana cardholders in this fashion, he needs to go to the state Legislature (rather than the court) to ask that to happen."

Frank Hammond, Jackson County counsel, declined to discuss why the county chose to appeal the decision.

Winters' petition to the Oregon Supreme Court to review the case was filed June 2, one day after Washington County Sheriff Rob Gordon appealed to the Supreme Court in a similar case.

The Washington County case began in 2006 when Washington County Circuit Court Judge Marco Hernandez said Gordon could not deny a permit to Steven Schwerp, a medical marijuana user.

The two cases were argued together before the appeals court and could again be argued together before the Supreme Court, if the court chooses to accept the case. The court agrees to review just 5 percent of petitions filed.

It's unknown when the court might decide whether to hear the case.

"There is no specific deadline to make that decision, but it usually takes about two to three months," said Phil Lemman, a spokesperson at the Oregon Judicial Department.

In its ruling, the Court of Appeals found that Willis complied with state law in her application and disputed Winters' federal arguments. The court concluded Winters was not convincing in his arguments that it was impossible to comply with both the state and federal law.

Willis, 53, volunteers with Patient Services, a nonprofit that helps people obtain medical marijuana cards.

At the time she applied for the concealed handgun license, she said she had been a medical marijuana user for four years to alleviate severe muscle spasms.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail

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