Conflict between national and state law is nothing new in the United States, but a recent lawsuit filed against a federal government bureau by a Nevada resident is sure to attract a lot of national attention. The lawsuit combines two political hot-button issues: legalized marijuana and gun possession rights. As some states begin to make marijuana legally available for medical purposes, they run into numerous problems combining the new state positions with national policy that still treats marijuana as an illegal substance.
S. Rowan Wilson, a resident of Carson City, Nevada and a holder of a medical marijuana card, filed a lawsuit on October 18 that claims illegal discrimination on the part of the national government, specifically the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (United States Attorney General Eric Holder is also named in the suit). The card, issued by the state of Nevada, allows Ms. Wilson to legally purchase and use marijuana for medical purposes-in her case, to relieve extremely painful cramps. According to rules set forth by the Bureau and distributed to gun sellers across the nation, any individual who unlawfully uses a controlled substance may not own a gun. In Ms. Wilson’s case, a store owner refused to sell her a gun on the basis of her use of marijuana for medical purposes–still considered a “controlled substance” in the eyes of federal law. In fact, the Bureau had sent the store owner, and presumably other merchants in the state of Nevada and other medicinal marijuana states, a notice clarifying that a state medical marijuana card was a valid reason to deny the sale of a firearm.
According to the lawsuit, refusal to allow ownership of a gun based on medical marijuana use is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s right to bear arms (second amendment) as well as the right to due process (fifth amendment). By punishing medical marijuana card holders, the federal government is concluding that they are guilty of a crime that forfeits the right to bear arms–even though the state in which the individuals reside does not view them as such.
The lawsuit, represented by attorney Charles C. Rainey of Henderson, Nevada, will certainly bring the state/federal conflict over legal marijuana use and the rights of individuals who exercise it into sharp focus. The resulting court decision may well set the tone for future cases.
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