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Pennsylvania GOP Senator Previews Bill To Let Medical Marijuana Patients Carry Guns



A Republican senator in Pennsylvania says he will soon introduce legislation that would remove barriers under state law to medical marijuana patients carrying firearms.

Sen. Dan Laughlin (R) circulated a co-sponsorship memo about the forthcoming bill on Friday, noting that while the state’s 2016 medical marijuana law allows patients to “LEGALLY treat specific medical conditions with marijuana,” other state mechanisms—including the issuance of licenses to carry firearms—still treat cannabis as unlawful.

Current law in Pennsylvania says that carry licenses won’t be issued to people who are unlawful marijuana users. As described by Laughlin, his bill would clarify that medical marijuana cardholders are not considered unlawful users under state law.

“A valid medical marijuana cardholder should NOT be considered an unlawful user and denied their rights,” Laughlin’s memo says.

Text of the previewed bill is not yet available, the lawmaker’s office told Marijuana Moment, as language is still being drafted.

“Although marijuana remains illegal under federal law, we should be updating Pennsylvania’s laws to ensure valid medical marijuana cardholders are not denied their rights,” Laughlin said in a press release. “My legislation will make sure a valid medical marijuana cardholder is no longer considered an unlawful marijuana user.”

Laughlin has been looking at the issue for more than a year, writing last February to the state’s acting police commissioner to “strongly encourage” he review a federal ruling that the U.S. government’s ban on gun ownership by people who use marijuana is unconstitutional.

The GOP senator’s push on gun rights for medical cannabis patients comes as Pennsylvania officials are increasingly considering broader adult-use marijuana legalization.

Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) used his budget proposal this week to encourage lawmakers to send him a bill to legalize cannabis, saying the state needs to catch up with neighbors that have already enacted the policy change.

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives, which is newly controlled by Democrats this session, have been holding a series of hearings on marijuana legalization. The Senate, however, still has a GOP majority—but a handful of Republicans, including Laughlin, have called for legalizing cannabis.

A poll released last week found that about two-thirds of Pennsylvania voters in the state support enacting marijuana legalization.

Meanwhile, as more states have legalized marijuana, officials and Second Amendment advocates have grappled with state and federal policies preventing drug users from obtaining guns. Federal law, most notably, states that being an “unlawful user” of a controlled substance, including marijuana, means a someone cannot legally buy or possess a firearm.

The statute behind that prohibition, however, has been challenged in a number of courts in recent years, with some deeming the restriction unconstitutional.

Last month, Warren County, Pennsylvania District Attorney Robert Greene, a registered medical cannabis patient in the state, teamed up with the Second Amendment Foundation to file suit against the federal government over the marijuana consumer gun ban.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has steadfastly defended the policy, contending that medical marijuana patients and everyday consumers pose unique dangers to society that justify withholding Second Amendment rights.

Late last year, DOJ lawyers argued to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that historical precedent “comfortably” supports the restriction. Cannabis consumers with guns pose a unique danger to society, the Biden administration claimed, in part because they’re “unlikely” to store their weapon properly.

Nevertheless, several federal courts have separately deemed the marijuana-related ban unconstitutional, leading DOJ to appeal some cases, which are ongoing.

The Justice Department asserted similar points during oral arguments in a separate but related case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in October. That case focuses on the Second Amendment rights of medical cannabis patients in Florida.

Attorneys in both cases have also touched on a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruling from August, Daniels v. United States, that found the ban preventing people who use marijuana from possessing firearms is unconstitutional, even if they consume cannabis for non-medical reasons.

DOJ had already advised the Eleventh Circuit court that it felt the ruling was “incorrectly decided,” and the department’s attorney reiterated that it’s the government’s belief that “there are some reasons to be uncertain about the foundations” of the appeals court decision.

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma also ruled in February that the ban prohibiting people who use marijuana from possessing firearms is unconstitutional, with the judge stating that the federal government’s justification for upholding the law is “concerning.”

In U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, a judge ruled in April that banning people who use marijuana from possessing firearms is unconstitutional—and it said the same legal principle also applies to the sale and transfer of guns.

In August, meanwhile, ATF sent a letter to Arkansas officials saying that the state’s recently enacted law permitting medical cannabis patients to obtain concealed carry gun licenses “creates an unacceptable risk,” and could jeopardize the state’s federally approved alternative firearm licensing policy.

Shortly after Minnesota’s governor signed a legalization bill into law in May, the agency issued a reminder emphasizing that people who use cannabis are barred from possessing and purchases guns and ammunition “until” federal prohibition ends.

In 2020, ATF issued an advisory specifically targeting Michigan that requires gun sellers to conduct federal background checks on all unlicensed gun buyers because it said the state’s cannabis laws had enabled “habitual marijuana users” and other disqualified individuals to obtain firearms illegally.

Attorneys for Hunter Biden, who has been indicted on a charge of buying a gun in 2018 at a time when he’s disclosed that he was an active user of crack cocaine, have previously cited the court ruling on the unconstitutionality of the federal ban, arguing that it applies to their client’s case as well.

Republican congressional lawmakers have filed two bills so far this session that focus on gun and marijuana policy.

Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, filed legislation in May to protect the Second Amendment rights of people who use marijuana in legal states, allowing them to purchase and possess firearms that they’re currently prohibited from having under federal law.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has committed to attaching that legislation to a bipartisan marijuana banking bill that advanced out of committee last month and is pending floor action.

Meanwhile, Mast is also cosponsoring a separate bill from Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV) this session that would more narrowly allow medical cannabis patients to purchase and possess firearms.

One place where the matter is particularly relevant is Jersey City, New Jersey, where Mayor Steven M. Fulop (D) is suing over a state policy that allows police officers to use marijuana while off duty.

That challenge, however, has sparked pushback from two police officers, who’ve since sued Jersey City over what they say is a politically motivated move by Fulop in service of a future gubernatorial campaign.

In Colorado, meanwhile, advocates have been working to qualify a measure for November’s ballot that would allow cannabis consumers to obtain concealed carry permits under state law. State officials have so far denied that proposal, however, which they say violates the state’s single-subject rule on ballot initiatives.

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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