The highest level of the court system in the US will not address the question about owning guns while being a medical marijuana patient. Concealed handgun owners with medical marijuana cards will be allowed to keep their licenses following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to hear Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winter’s legal challenge that asserted U.S. law trumps Oregon law.
The gun-rights case, that began in a small Oregon town, looks like it has reached the end of the road for the legal battle. Cynthia Willis, a resident of the tiny town of Gold Hill, Oregon had been a long-time concealed hand-gun permit owner. In the town of about 1200 residents, Willis, a retired school bus driver, was looking to renew her concealed handgun permit when the sheriff in Jackson County that oversees the permitting found out she was also an Oregon Medical Marijuana Patient. Willis took her battle to court in 2008 over the matter.
“Just because we’re patients doesn’t mean we don’t have real lifestyles and rights like everyone else,” she said. Willis said she obtained her Walther P-22 pistol before she became a medical marijuana patient. “My Walther was an anniversary present from my husband,” she said. “I got this before all of this started happening.”
“We had a former vice president who shot someone in the face, and he didn’t get in any trouble,” said Willis, referring to former Vice President Dick Cheney. Willis said all gun owners should be responsible
Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters argued that issuing the license would violate federal law, specifically the Gun Control Act of 1968. That act from 44 years ago specifically forbids anyone who uses or is addicted to a controlled substance from having a firearm. The court found that Sheriff Winters had no precedent to deny Ms Willis her renewed gun permit license based on the fact she was a medical marijuana patient. The sheriff took the case to an appellate court, where Willis prevailed again, then Winters took the case all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court. The highest court in Oregon also agreed with the lower courts.
Jackson County’s legal team were arguing that the Gun Control Act of 1968 was on their side, barring people who were considered dangerous or irresponsible and used controlled substances from owning a gun. They also said that a ruling in Cynthia Willis’ favor would force the sheriff to issue concealed weapons permits to people who admitted to using methamphetamine. They said where there is a conflict between state law and federal law, the federal law should prevail.
The Oregon Supreme Court ruled that issuing gun permits to medical marijuana patients would not violate the federal Gun Control Act based on Oregon’s own concealed handgun licensing laws. The federal law in this case, the 1968 gun control act, only gives the states authority to set their own rules for gun ownership and concealed weapons permits, according to the Oregon Supreme Court. After that ruling Jackson County Sheriff, Mike Winters had the county legal team prepare to take the case to the US Supreme Court to ask for clarification of the federal law he still believes outlaws guns in the hands of medical marijuana patients.
This week, the US Supreme Court decided not to hear the case, along with a similar gun-permit case from Washington County, Oregon. Since the state ruling, Sheriff Winter has had to provide concealed handgun licenses to Willis and other medical marijuana patients as a result of those court rulings.
NORML Legal Committee attorney Lee Berger, well-known activist lawyer in the state, had the case from the lower courts on up that ladder and said he hopes this message from the Supreme Court will force Winters and other sheriffs to respect the rights of medical marijuana patients. The case has cost the tiny county about $50,000 in legal fees.