Up in smoke

Jackson County has now spent four years and tens of thousands of dollars trying to deny a concealed handgun license to a medical marijuana patient. But Sheriff Mike Winters and the county's legal department are not through yet; they have appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Winters denied a license to Cynthia Willis in 2007 after she admitted using medical marijuana legally under state law. The sheriff argued that the federal Gun Control Act of 1968 bars persons who use or are addicted to a controlled substance from possessing a gun. Marijuana is listed as a controlled substance under federal law. Therefore, Winters said, he would violate federal law if he granted Willis a concealed handgun license.

Three layers of Oregon's court system disagreed. A Jackson County judge, the state Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court noted the federal act itself says states are free to write their own laws governing gun ownership, and that there is no direct conflict between the federal statute and state law.

Regardless of the wisdom of pursuing this case after losing three times in Oregon courts, it's worth noting that the issue never would have arisen if Winters had not taken it upon himself to add questions to the standard application for a concealed handgun license, including whether the applicant was a medical marijuana user.

In March, when the Oregon Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the appeal, Assistant County Counsel Ryan Kirchoff insisted the case was not about challenging the wisdom of the medical marijuana act. If that's so, it's hard to understand why Winters added the application question in the first place.

Several drugs on the federal controlled substances list are regularly prescribed to patients. We're not aware of anyone being denied a concealed handgun license for legally taking morphine, Vicodin or any other controlled substance prescribed by a doctor. So why single out medical marijuana users?

The county argues that federal law says marijuana has no legitimate medical use. But Oregon law says it does.

County officials insist they simply want to know for sure whether the sheriff is violating federal law by issuing a concealed handgun license to a marijuana user. That question has been asked and answered three times now — but evidently the answer is not what the county wants to hear.

Chances are excellent that the U.S. Supreme Court won't even listen to the question. The high court takes only about 200 cases a year out of 10,000 submitted.

Winters — and Washington County Sheriff Rob Gordon, who denied three handgun licenses for the same reason — should have accepted the ruling of Oregon's highest court and stopped spending taxpayers' money on fruitless appeals. If they think medical marijuana users shouldn't have concealed weapons permits, they should take it up with the Legislature.

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