|Photo: Andreas Fuhrmann/Record Searchlight|
|Veteran Sean Merritt has spoken out against gun store owners who won’t sell firearms to medical marijuana patients.|
Morphine? Klonopin? No problem. But if you use medical marijuana, no gun for you!
Redding, California gun dealer Patrick Jones — who happens to also be mayor of the town — refuses to do business with known medical marijuana patients.
That refusal has drawn lots of criticism from patients such as Army Spc. Sean Merritt, an honorably discharged and disabled veteran. The patients, who have twice gone to Redding City Council chambers to denounce Jones, say he is violating patients’ rights, reports Scott Mobley at the Redding Record Searchlight.
“There is nothing in state law that says I cannot own or possess a firearm,” Merritt said at a recent city council meeting. And to be told as such is branding me as a severe mental patient or a felon. I am neither.”
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Jones claims he is merely following the law, citing a federal law that forbids gun dealers from selling firearms to anyone who is “an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana.”
Prospective gun owners must fill out a federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) form that quizzes the buyer about criminal history, mental health, citizenship and “drug use.”
Question 11e on the ATF form asks about marijuana, along with “any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance.”
If a buyer marks “Yes” to 11e, the sale cannot go forward, Jones claimed.
Merritt, who uses marijuana to treat pain and spasms in his groin and thigh. He’s suffered since a military doctor performing a hernia operation accidentally cut a nerve, and said the harsh pharmaceuticals prescribed him by the Veterans Administration left him feeling “like a zombie.”
Merritt credits cannabis with helping him live a better life; he said he came to California so that he could lawfully use the herb medicinally.
Christine Gasparac, press secretary for the California Department of Justice, said nothing in state law would prevent a medical marijuana user from buying or owning a gun.
“But the ATF is a federal form,” Gasparac said, adding that she is unaware of any case law which could clarify the issue.
Rich Howell, general manager at Olde West Gun & Loan Company in Redding, said he doesn’t coach people on how to answer Question 11e.
“That’s a determination as to what is unlawful, and we don’t interpret the law,” Howell said. “We just have to make sure when someone comes in to purchase, it is done in an acceptable, legal manner.”
While gun ownership obviously wouldn’t be illegal under Proposition 215, under which California voters legalized medical marijuana in 1996, things aren’t so clear under federal law, Howell said.
People who use medical marijuana aren’t necessarily “addicts,” any more than those who use Vicodin or OxyContin medically are addicts, Howell said.
“We do need clarification, and it has to come from the ATF,” Howell said. “Until that direction comes, I say, ‘Legally, I can’t tell you.’ “
Drew Wade, an ATF spokesman in Washington, D.C., could not say off the top of his head whether federal law trumped state law on the question of whether medical marijuana patients can buy firearms.
But gun dealer Mayor Jones claimed the law is clear.
“I have called the ATF and they have told me the law,” Jones said, claiming that he has spoken with two different field officers on two separate occasions to make sure.
“It’s not up for interpretation, it’s not a debatable issue,” he said.
“If a person is declaring they are a medical marijuana patient, I cannot sell to them.”
Merritt called Jones Fort, the mayor’s gun store in Redding, after hearing of other medical marijuana patients who had been denied a gun purchase there (Jones claims he has turned away only two potential customers for being pot patients).
Merritt said he asked the clerk if he could buy a gun, even if he was using morphine.
The clerk said yes.
Merritt then asked if he could buy a gun if he was using Klonopin.
Again, the clerk said yes.
Then Merritt asked about medical marijuana, and clerk told him no.