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Pennsylvania GOP Senator’s Bill Would Let Medical Marijuana Patients Get Gun Carry Permits



A Republican senator in Pennsylvania has formally introduced a bill meant to remove state barriers to medical marijuana patients carrying firearms after previewing the legislation and soliciting co-sponsors earlier this year.

Sen. Dan Laughlin (R) introduced SB 1146 on Wednesday, which state Senate Republicans noted in a press release was also 2A Day, celebrating the Constitution’s Second Amendment.

The GOP statement called the proposal “a bold step toward ensuring the rights of all citizens,” saying it “acknowledges the importance of the right to bear arms, a fundamental aspect of American freedom.”

“My legislation will make sure a valid medical marijuana cardholder is no longer considered an unlawful marijuana user,” Laughlin said in the release. “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.”

The two-page bill would amend the Pennsylvania’s Uniform Firearms Act, which currently says a concealed carry license “shall not be issued” to someone who “is addicted to or is an unlawful user of marijuana.” SB 1146 would add that “the term ‘unlawful user of marijuana’ does not include an individual who holds a valid identification card” under the state’s medical marijuana act.

It would also add a qualifier to a provision barring carry permits for an “individual who is prohibited from possessing or acquiring a firearm under the statutes of the United States,” asserting that the restriction “shall not apply” to someone prohibited from gun ownership “based solely on the individual’s status as a holder of a valid identification card” for medical marijuana.

The changes would take effect 60 days after becoming law.

In February, Laughlin circulated a co-sponsorship memo previewing the measure, 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.

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

Separately in Pennsylvania, plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit over the Second Amendment rights of medical marijuana cardholders—including a local prosecutor who is himself a cannabis patient—filed a fresh brief in their case last month, arguing that the “deprivation of Second Amendment rights for merely using a medicinal substance has no basis in this nation’s history or tradition and is unconstitutional, full stop.”

The underlying suit was filed in January by Pennsylvania’s Warren County District Attorney Robert Greene, along with advocacy group the Second Amendment Foundation and a U.S. military veteran who was recommended medical marijuana but has not registered as a patient because it would deny him the right to possess a firearm.

The filing quotes a federal appeals court ruling that opined, “Throughout American history, laws have regulated the combination of guns and intoxicating substances. But at no point in the 18th or 19th century did the government disarm individuals who uses drugs or alcohol at one time from possessing guns at another.”

Supreme Court justices are expected to decide soon whether they will hear a federal government appeal of a circuit court ruling that found the firearm restriction violates the Second Amendment.

That ruling came from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which examined the federal statute known as Section 922(g)(3) that prevents someone who is an “unlawful user” of an illegal drug from buying or possessing firearms. The circuit court found the policy unconstitutional as applied to a man who faced a conviction after admitting to having used cannabis while in possession of a gun.

The tension around gun rights for medical cannabis patients comes as Pennsylvania officials are increasingly considering broader adult-use marijuana legalization.

A legislative subcommittee last week held yet another hearing on marijuana legalization as the governor steps up his push to end cannabis prohibition. The hearing came just days after Rep. Amen Brown (D) filed the marijuana legalization bill, which he described as “grounded in safety and social equity.”

The panel has held hearings several times recently to discuss cannabis issues. At a prior meeting last month, members focused on criminal justice implications of prohibition and the potential benefits of reform.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,400 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

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At another hearing in February, members looked at the industry perspective, with multiple stakeholders from cannabis growing, dispensing and testing businesses, as well as clinical registrants, testifying.

At the subcommittee’s previous cannabis meeting in December, members heard testimony and asked questions about various elements of marijuana oversight, including promoting social equity and business opportunities, laboratory testing and public versus private operation of a state-legal cannabis industry.

During the panel’s first meeting late last year, Frankel said that state-run stores are “certainly an option” he’s considering for Pennsylvania, similar to what New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) recommended for that state last year, though a state commission later shied away from that plan.

The cannabis proposal the Brown filed in the House this week is an identical companion to a bipartisan Senate cannabis legalization measure that was introduced last year.

While Pennsylvania lawmakers have put forward legalization bills in the past, it’s not clear what might serve as the vehicle for reform this year.

Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) once again proposed legalization as part of his budget request in February, seeking to establish a system that would be implemented starting this summer. But while he suggested certain parameters such as having the Department of Agriculture regulate the program, there’s not legislative text yet.

Last month, the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) released a report that found the state stands to generate $271 million in annual revenue if marijuana is legalized and taxed according to the governor’s proposal—but it would have been more if the commonwealth hadn’t been lapped by other neighboring states that have already enacted the reform.

Meanwhile, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jordan Harris (D) said in a recent interview that it’s “high time” to legalize marijuana and lay the groundwork for businesses in the state to export cannabis to other markets if federal law changes—and he sees a “real opportunity” to do so.

However, the committee’s minority chairman, Rep. Seth Grove (R), said he’s doubtful that the Democratic-controlled House will be able to craft and deliver legalization legislation that could advance through the GOP majority Senate.

Pennsylvania lawmakers also recently advanced a pair of bills meant to prevent police from charging medical cannabis patients with impaired driving without proof of intoxication.

In December, the governor signed a bill to allow all licensed medical marijuana grower-processors in the state to serve as retailers and sell their cannabis products directly to patients. Independent dispensaries could also start cultivating their own marijuana.

Americans Use Marijuana At Nearly The Same Rate In Legal And Non-Legal States, Suggesting Criminalization Doesn’t ‘Curtail’ Consumption, Gallup Poll Finds

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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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