Published 22 hours ago on April 3, 2023
By Kyle Jaeger
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Arkansas lawmakers have approved a bill in committee that would clarify that medical marijuana patients can obtain concealed carry licenses for firearms.
The House Judiciary Committee passed the legislation from Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R) in a voice vote on Thursday, sending it to the floor.
The measure states that a person’s status as a qualified medical cannabis patient in the state cannot be used “in determining whether an applicant is eligible to be issued a license to carry a concealed handgun.”
State statute would also be amended to clarify that participation in the medical marijuana program doesn’t mean that a person is a chronic or habitual user of a controlled substance, which could otherwise disqualify people from obtaining the concealed carry permit.
The state Department of Health (DOH) would be barred from disclosing a person’s patient status to the state police as part of any investigation into concealed carry eligibility.
While some states have moved to more broadly preserve firearm rights for cannabis patients and consumers, this legislation is more narrowly tailored to the concealed carry issue.
The voter-approved constitutional amendment that legalized medical cannabis in Arkansas already provides that people will not be discriminated against because of their patient status, but a witness at Thursday’s hearing said that some state forms still contain a question asking about medical cannabis. The bill would clarify the issue.
While the state does not require people to have a permit for concealed carry, some Arkansas firearms owners prefer to have one because of the protections it can bestow when traveling in other states and because of the clarity it provides during police encounters.
Arkansas voters defeated a ballot initiative to more broadly legalize marijuana for adults in November.
Meanwhile, the new Arkansas patient-focused bill comes as the issue of gun rights for cannabis consumers is actively being taken up in at least two federal courts.
The U.S. Department of Justice recently filed a brief in a federal appeals court as part of one ongoing lawsuit over the government’s ban preventing medical marijuana patients from possessing firearms.
Many of DOJ’s arguments in the brief filed echo points that the agency made in earlier filings in the case, including in a federal district court that dismissed the lawsuit that’s now being appealed by its plaintiffs. But the latest document places new emphasis on the “wide-ranging consequences” that the Biden administration says would result from a ruling that favors the plaintiffs.
Meanwhile, a different federal court separately ruled in February that the ban on marijuana consumers possessing guns is unconstitutional in a case that’s also being appealed.
Advocates have argued that the fight to end the federal ban for cannabis consumers isn’t about expanding gun rights, per se. Rather, it’s a matter of constitutionality and public safety.
Supporters of the Florida lawsuit have argued that the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Bureau (ATF) requirement effectively creates an incentive for cannabis consumers to either lie on the form, buy a gun on the illicit market or simply forgo their right to bear arms.
In 2020, ATF issued an advisory specifically targeting Michigan that requires gun sellers to conduct federal background checks on all unlicensed gun buyers because it said the state’s cannabis laws had enabled “habitual marijuana users” and other disqualified individuals to obtain firearms illegally.
In light of the federal court’s February ruling on the unconstitutional of the federal ban, a GOP Pennsylvania senator recently encouraged law enforcement to take steps to remove state barriers to gun ownership for cannabis consumers, focusing on medical marijuana patients.
In Maryland, a key House committee also held a hearing in February on a bill to protect gun rights for medical cannabis patients in the state.
Meanwhile, a GOP congressman filed a bill in January that seeks to allow medical cannabis patients to purchase and possess firearms. The legislation was also introduced in the 116th Congress but was not ultimately enacted.