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Matthew T. Mangino: A looming showdown: Guns or marijuana

Matthew T. Mangino: A looming showdown: Guns or marijuana

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Pennsylvania residents can now legally use marijuana for medical purposes. Some 10,000 Pennsylvanians are now literally card-carrying marijuana users. If you have the card you can access marijuana for any one of 17 different serious health conditions.

That is great news for people with cancer, epilepsy or Crohn's disease to name a few. The news is not so good for gun buyers or owners who need cannabis treatment.

As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette put it, “(S)ome sick people will have to make a difficult decision: Is taking the medicine worth surrendering what gun-owning advocates see as an enshrined constitutional right?”

Under federal law, all forms of marijuana use remains a crime. The Drug Enforcement Administration considers marijuana a Schedule 1 drug, in the same category with cocaine, heroin and LSD. Marijuana and the other illicit drugs remain illegal on a federal level because there are “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

As a result, marijuana use eliminates an individual from buying or owning a gun. The names of those card-carrying marijuana users will have their name in a Pennsylvania database that will be accessible to gun dealers.

If a name comes up as a marijuana user, the individual is disqualified from purchasing a firearm. In fact, the U.S Justice Department keeps records of gun purchases and the application asks specific questions about marijuana use, with the following warning:

“The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside.”

Evidently the federal government doesn’t realize that 29 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized some form of marijuana use.

What’s worse — in a state with a long history of vigorously defending the Second Amendment — Ryan Tarkowski, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Police told the Post-Gazette “It’s unlawful to keep possession of firearms obtained prior to registering.”

The police can confiscate a registered marijuana user’s gun.

The feds don’t seem to be backing off. Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that previous Obama-era policies of non-interference with states that have legalized marijuana are "unnecessary."

In a memo, the attorney general called marijuana "dangerous" and activity surrounding the drug to be a "serious crime."

He has encouraged U.S. Attorneys to vigorously pursue illegal drug cases including those that involve the use and distribution of marijuana.

The problem is reverberating nationwide. The Maryland State Police, who oversee gun ownership in the state, ask prospective gun buyers if they have a medical marijuana card. According to the Baltimore Sun, buyers must allow the state health department to disclose whether they have applied for a card.

The Honolulu Police Department’s plan to confiscate guns from medical marijuana users has been put on hold. The police sent a series of letters to medical marijuana card holders, demanding they surrender all firearms. According to Hawaii News Now, the policy has been met with strong opposition and will be reevaluated by state police officials.

The National Rifle Association has not taken a position on the issue, yet. With nearly 60 percent of states authorizing marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes the gun issue is not going away. This has the ability to pit long-time “law and order” pols against NRA supporters who are also reliable benefactors.

Must one be forced to choose between medicine and a gun? Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolfe has made it clear—not in his state.

“The federal government needs to do the right thing here,” Wolfe told Public Radio’s WESA-FM in Pittsburgh. “We’re not going to take their [medical marijuana users] guns away."

— Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

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