Medical marijuana or your gun? In Missouri, you’ll have to make a choice

Federal law prohibits medical marijuana users from possessing or buying firearms and ammunition — even if state law allows the drug’s use.

That likely will come as a surprise to many Missourians who supported the legalization of medical marijuana in the state. And there are no exceptions, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which means Missouri residents won’t legally be able to have a license for medical marijuana and possess a firearm at the same time.

The law creates a serious dilemma for gun-carrying Missourians in need of medical marijuana. Do they choose protection or pain treatment?

Voters’ decision this month to amend the Missouri Constitution and legalize the drug for medical purposes did not change marijuana’s illegal status under federal law. And federal authorities are still obligated to enforce the nation’s laws.

The government’s memorandum on this issue makes clear that anyone who uses marijuana is prohibited from possessing a firearm. The onus now is on Missouri lawmakers to quickly tackle a long list of questions related to the legalization of medical marijuana, including how to protect the right to bear arms for licensed users of medical marijuana.

Some lawmakers have called for enacting legislation to ensure that patients’ Second Amendment rights aren’t compromised.

“I’ve already announced my intent to preemptively protect legitimate medicinal marijuana users’ #2A rights next year,” state Rep. Nick Schroer, a Republican from the St. Louis suburb of O’Fallon wrote in a tweet. “Govt overreach in other states proves it is a necessary piece of legislation.”

“States must take action to prevent usurpation of power by the feds,” Schroer wrote in another tweet.

Marijuana distribution and possession with intent to distribute remain illegal under federal law. And disrupting and dismantling large-scale drug-trafficking organizations are the federal government’s primary focus, said a spokesman for Tim Garrison, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri.

Targeting law-abiding gun owners carrying medical marijuana cards is not the best use of federal resources.

Medical cannabis should be recognized as a prescription medication. But for now, because marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance, federally licensed firearms dealers cannot sell to people who have medical marijuana licenses.

Many Second Amendment advocates and proponents of the medical marijuana measure approved by voters have argued that no person in legal possession of medical marijuana should be denied the right to own a firearm. People who drink or use legal drugs such as opioids or antidepressants can still own a gun, so why is the law different for medical marijuana users?

“We don’t believe medical marijuana patients should be prevented from owning or purchasing firearms,” said Jack Cardetti, a spokesman New Approach Missouri, the organization that pushed for legalization in the state.

Missouri was the 32nd state to legalize medical marijuana. There already have been legal challenges to the federal prohibition on marijuana and guns in other states. All have failed. Lawmakers in Oklahoma and Illinois have implored law enforcement to essentially ignore the federal memo directing them to seize the firearms of individuals in possession of a medical marijuana card.

In Missouri, the highway patrol will continue to enforce laws that prohibit possession of illegal drugs. The Missouri State Highway Patrol does not regulate the sale of firearms, though. That’s a federal issue.

Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved the legalization of medical marijuana. Lawmakers should respect that decision and take steps in the next legislative session to ensure that legal users of medical marijuana aren’t forced to forfeit their right to bear arms.