Federal law currently prohibits cannabis users from purchasing or possessing firearms —regardless of state law and even if they have a medical cannabis card.
Maryland requires background checks for all firearm sales…including those through unlicensed retailers, also known as the “gun show” loophole. Because gun retailers are licensed by the ATF—and federal law prohibits cannabis users from possessing or buying firearms—disclosing your cannabis use during a background check will prevent you from purchasing a gun in Maryland.
This year, the Maryland General Assembly failed to pass Senate Bill 190, the fourth iteration of previous legislation that would have made it illegal to prohibit medical cannabis card holders from owning firearms, despite federal law.
Essentially, the bill would have prevented state police from enforcing the federal laws that prohibited cannabis users from owning guns. That being said, medical cannabis users in Maryland would still be prohibited from purchasing firearms—if they disclose their cannabis use during their background check. The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) keeps cardholders’ information private which means the state police cannot verify whether an applicant has a medical card.
That being said, cannabis users who purchase or possess a firearm would still technically be in violation of federal law and could technically be charged with felony possession of a prohibited weapon, which carries a sentence of 1-10 years or $10,000 fine.
Though the bill passed unanimously in the Senate, it was stopped in the House of Delegates following a series of amendments which removed contradictions with federal law—killing the original intent of the bill.
Delegate C.T. Wilson submitted the amendment removing the medical cannabis provisions out of concern that federal officials now had an easy excuse to prosecute Maryland residents who were still federally prohibited from owning a firearm.
“We’re telling our citizens it’s okay to buy a gun even if you have a marijuana card,” Wilson said. “At best, I guess we are going to hope the police, judge or prosecutor understand the confusion we have created.”
Del. Wilson warned the legislature of individuals who would not disclose their medical cannabis use during their federal background check because they think they are in accordance with state law, “Now the feds can come to your house because you’ve committed a felony.”
That being said, a background check does not verify with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission whether or not an applicant is a cardholder. If you don’t disclose you are a medical cannabis cardholder, Maryland police have no way of finding out.
This isn’t the case in every state. Hawaii grants police access to their medical cannabis database. In 2017, the Honolulu Police Department gave medical cannabis card holders 30 days to surrender their firearms a policy which was ultimately not enforced after major pushback from the community.
Daniel Carlin-Weber is a firearms instructor and founder of C-W Defense who has had to turn away students that have a medical cannabis card because they are not permitted to legally own firearms. It is “egregious” he said, that Americans lose their second amendment rights as a result of state-legal cannabis use.
The only way medical cannabis cardholders can legally purchase a firearm is at an out-of-state gun show that doesn’t require background checks for private firearm sales, though federal law still technically prohibits possession of said firearm.
Only Congress has the ability to fully legalize gun ownership for cannabis users. And they don’t even need to fully legalize cannabis to do so—they would just have to restore second amendment rights to state-legal cannabis users through federal decriminalization.
“It’s got nothing to do with the effects of cannabis if you’re looking at it from a purely logical sense,” Carlin-Webber said. “We can consume all the alcohol we want and don’t lose our [gun] rights.”
While a bill like SB 190 falters again, many people who have a gun license and could benefit from medicinal cannabis are shut-out. A Marylander who was a law enforcement veteran and now works security explained to The Outlaw Report that he needs a gun license for his security job. As a result he has had to “choose,” he said, between his job and his mental health.
“I got PTSD. I was a cop for a long time. I got PTSD. That’s one of the symptoms that gets you a medical marijuana card. PTSD,” the guard, who wished to remain anonymous, said. “But I can’t get a card from a doctor because then I got to worry that I’ll lose my security job.”
He also highlighted the strange situation in which armed security work at dispensaries even though the gun they have a license to own prevents them from accessing medical cannabis.
“I know cats who work security at dispensaries. So what are they doing, really? They’re working security, protecting a product they’re not allowed to use,” the guard said. “And why aren’t they allowed to use it? Because they have to have a gun license to get the job protecting the product they can’t use. It doesn’t make sense.”
Additional reporting by Brandon Soderberg
Photo illustration by Kathy Wyche