As Pennsylvania prepares to issue medical marijuana cards by year’s end, patients will find firearms out of their reach, state and federal law enforcement authorities say.
At issue is the federal classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug— one with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” the same as heroin and LSD and other hallucinogens, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“There are no exceptions in federal law for marijuana used for medicinal or recreational purposes,” said Special Agent Joshua E. Jackson, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives in Washington, D.C.
Pennsylvania attorneys specializing in medical marijuana law told lehighvalleylive.com they were surprised firearms ownership is an issue at all with patients. Steve Schain, whose Hoban Law Group is “100 percent devoted to cannabis and hemp law,” said the program was created by state law, and there is no mention of firearms.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to bring it up,” said Andrew Sacks, managing partner at Sacks Weston Diamond LLC in Philadelphia.
The trouble is, it’s an automatic “no” when a legitimate medical marijuana user applies for a background check to purchase or transfer a firearm or ammunition, or to obtain a license to carry a concealed firearm, according to the ATF and Pennsylvania State Police.
The federal background check form was amended in the past year to explicitly point out the no-exceptions federal prohibition, said Major Scott C. Price, state police director of the Bureau of Records and Identification.
“Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug or any other controlled substance?” questions 11e reads on the ATF Form 4473. “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.”
The ATF sent a letter saying as much to firearms sellers in 2011, Price noted. Answer “yes” on the form, and the retailer won’t even run the background check, which will look at the database of medical marijuana cardholders, he said.
“So, in fact, an individual who is issued a medical marijuana card in Pennsylvania who is a user of medical marijuana, that individual would be prohibited from purchasing or technically possession of a firearm under federal law,” Price said Tuesday.
This firearms prohibition is gaining recognition in Pennsylvania as the state prepares to issue prescription cards. As of Nov. 16, more than 6,000 patients registered to receive cannabis for the treatment of symptoms of any of 17 approved conditions, according to the state Department of Health.
Holders of the $50 state medical marijuana ID card are expected to be able to purchase cannabis products from approved dispensaries beginning in 2018. The prohibition on purchasing firearms does not apply to medical marijuana caregivers, who can obtain cannabis products for up to five patients.