The Nixon Restriction - Marijuana and Gun Laws
Updated: Dec 7, 2022
Can an Ohio Medical Marijuana Patient Own or Buy a Firearm?
Medical marijuana is now legal in Ohio. This is thanks to HB 523, which was signed into law back in the fall of 2016. Many prospective and current medical marijuana patients have asked our team at Ohio Marijuana Card about whether being a medical marijuana patient prevents them from owning or buying a firearm. The short answer is yes, but in this article we will break down why that is, and whether there's a system of enforcement in place to check if gun buyers are medical marijuana patients.
A Strong Feeling
"I have very strong feelings [about marijuana]," Nixon once told Pennsylvania Governor Richard Shafer, the lawmaker behind the Shafer Commission, a report (that Nixon ignored) which ultimately determined that marijuana had medicinal value and should not be criminalized.
"I want a goddamn strong statement," Nixon sparked, "one that tears the ass off [legalization advocates]."
As such, in 1970, marijuana was added to the Schedule I category of the Controlled Substances Act, effectively making it federally illegal to possess, transport or use cannabis in any form. This also meant that, as far as the government was concerned, marijuana was considered habit forming, had a high potential for abuse, and had no medicinal value. While life-destroying drugs like cocaine remain categorized as Schedule II, marijuana was considered an imminent danger to the very fabric of society...at least on paper.
This was, as the Shafer Commission proved, far from the truth. But at the time, Nixon was waging a personal war against drugs of any kind, having ushered in the Controlled Substances Act, and the Drug Enforcement Agency, both of which stand to this very day.
Surprisingly, marijuana was never meant to remain a Schedule I drug. In fact, its status as Schedule I is still listed as "provisional" despite having been on the list for more than 40 years.
We may never fully know why Nixon hated marijuana so much, be it a personal experience, sheer ignorance, racial bias or whether he was just looking for a way to arrest protesters on the White House lawn, but we do know he wanted to come off as harsh as possible about pot.
As such, marijuana has remained illegal under federal law ever since. And it is this federal law that prevents gun owners from being able to buy or possess a firearm if they are a registered medical marijuana patient.
The ATF is the governmental organization that provides background checks for prospective gun owners. Because the ATF is an arm of the federal government, they cannot allow a medical marijuana patient to purchase a gun. Since marijuana is considered "habit forming" as a Schedule I drug, the ATF cannot allow patients who are "addicted to marijuana" to own a gun.
Naturally, while nearly all medical marijuana patients know that cannabis is not generally habit forming, nor does it impair the body and mind in the same damaging ways as alcohol (a totally legal substance), there's little that can be done to combat this rule. Several states have challenged the ban, only to have federal courts shoot down the appeals, stating that this ban does not fall under Second Amendment jurisdiction.
The Grayest of Areas
So will the government actually enforce this ban, or is marijuana going to continually operate in the grayest of legal areas? That's a tough question to answer, but not unlike the smoking ban that Ohio has implemented on medical marijuana, there seems to be very little provisions in place to actually enforce the ban.
Ohio Board of Pharmacy spokesman Cameron McNamee told Dayton Daily News that, "The patient registry itself is protected information and only those doctors who are certified will be able to access the patient registry."
This means that while the ATF can perform a background check on potential gun buyers, it is impossible for them to be able to access the medical marijuana patient registry. This effectively means that the ATF will need to rely on the honesty of gun buyers filling out their background check forms.
This could change at some point in the future as Ohio's marijuana law is fairly new. At any point a better system of enforcement might arise. But it seems -- at least for now -- that medical marijuana patients will have no formal way of being flagged by the ATF as a marijuana user. As such, if a gun buyer does not choose to disclose that they are a medical marijuana patient on their form, the ATF will not know. That said, lying on an ATF background check form is a felony, so we do not recommend doing that.
The seeds of change have been planted throughout history regarding marijuana, but each time it seems there is something that stops those seeds from growing, leaving marijuana a deeply restricted drug. But those times might be changing...maybe.
GW Pharmaceuticals, a British-based company, has recently prompted the latest challenge to marijuana's Schedule I classification, as their new drug, Epidiolex, is a marijuana-derived treatment for patients with childhood epilepsy. This is a direct check on the "no medicinal value" claim of marijuana's Schedule I ruling, and it is one that the DEA will apparently reexamine.
"We expect to make Epidiolex available to U.S. patients this fall, following rescheduling, which is expected to occur within 90 days of FDA approval," said GW Pharmarceuticals' CEO Justin Gover in a call to investors in June. "We have been building commercial inventory in recent months and are in a position to ship product into the U.S. supply chain, once rescheduling is complete."
DEA public affairs officer Barbara Carreno echoed this sentiment when speaking with Business Insider in June, "We don't have a choice on that. [Marijuana] absolutely has to become Schedule 2, 3, 4, or 5."
So this could mean that marijuana may finally be removed from Schedule I this fall. If that happens, the ATF could redefine their regulations and allow medical marijuana patients to purchase and possess firearms. But until that time comes, it will remain illegal for medical marijuana patients to own or buy a firearm.
As always, we will keep you posted on any developments regarding this or any new rules, regulations or changes in marijuana laws. In the meantime, find out if you qualify for medical marijuana in Ohio.