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On Monday a Ventura County Court ruled that an applicant for a permit to Carry Concealed Weapon (CCW) was not disqualified because he had used cannabis. Ryan Adam King had filed an application for a CCW in March of 2023 with the Ventura County Sheriff’s office. King answered “no” to a question about being addicted to controlled substances or alcohol or whether he had ever “utilized” an illegal controlled substance. King was interviewed on February 12, 2024, almost eleven months after applying for a CCW, by Sheriff’s investigator Patrick Hawthorne. Hawthorne prepared and filed a declaration with the court after the interview that reads like a Reefer Madness Era statement about marijuana being a dangerous drug, disqualifying a person from obtaining a CCW.

In a February 2024 phone interview, King told Hawthorne that he does not regularly use cannabis, but three to four weeks prior, he had used cannabis at a party with friends. Hawthorne stated in his May 1, 2024 declaration to the court that King’s application was denied, based upon a Penal Code section that disqualifies a CCW application if the applicant is “…currently abusing a controlled substance…”. In California, marijuana is a schedule 1 controlled substance, as it is under federal law. The rational for the denial appears to be based upon the single use 3-4 weeks before the interview. For good measure Investigator Hawthorne referred to a Federal Law that makes it a crime to possess a firearm if you are an “illegal user” of a controlled substance. Hawthorne also refers to a Federal Regulation that infers current illegal drug use from evidence of recent use.

King appealed the denial of the CCW in Ventura Superior Court.  Hawthorne’s declaration was part of the response filed by the Ventura County Sheriff supporting the denial of the CCW. At the hearing, the Court questioned the Sheriff’s response in light of the US Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling in the New York State Rifle Association v Bruen case which held that any “special purpose” test to obtain a CCW violated the 2nd and 14th Amendment right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home. It should also be noted that California Courts, since the 2008 San Diego NORML case, have held that Federal Law does not control a state case involving marijuana. 

California is one of the few states that requires some sort of a special purpose to obtain a CCW. After the Bruen case, it is only a matter of time before there is a challenge to any requirement that an applicant for a CCW show they have a special need or purpose for the permit. The fact that California has legalized cannabis for adults over 21 is an additional problem for the logic expressed in the Hawthorne declaration. The use of the term “abusing” or “addicted” is also problematic because they are vague, due to a lack of accepted definition. Does King’s admission that he had used cannabis a single time in January of 2024 qualify as abuse or addiction? The Court did not buy that argument. 

I can’t imagine the Sheriff will let this one go without an appeal. I’m also hard pressed to believe the Sheriff will be allowed to use Reefer Madness logic to deny a CCW to an otherwise qualified applicant. Sheriffs in California have long had almost unfettered control over issuing a CCW. However, the US Supreme Court has spoken in the Bruen case and it’s time law enforcement got onboard with their ruling. It also seems to be a good time to reevaluate the consequences of the war on marijuana. If it’s alright to have an occasional drink and be a lawful gun owner, is it alright to occasionally consume cannabis and be treated the same way?

The circumstances in the Hunter Biden conviction raise similar questions about preventing an adult from buying or possessing a firearm if there is a history of substance use. Biden had a history of significant use of cocaine that was classified as “addiction” while King had a history of insignificant cannabis use. Occasional alcohol use has never been an issue where gun rights are concerned, but the use of “drugs” gets law enforcements panties in a serious knot. Logic seems to have no place in the arguments over who should be prevented from obtaining or carrying a weapon. 

I will revisit the topic of obtaining a CCW after using cannabis as the case proceeds through the courts. The questions about alcohol use versus cannabis use and guns is not going away. Cannabis use is too popular to be disregarded when it comes to guns. In light of the Bruen case, it will be interesting to see how gun rights are treated when it comes to cannabis and other controlled substances.

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