If you're a gun-owning Pennsylvania resident, the Pennsylvania State Police are urging you to turn in your firearms if you are seeking medical marijuana cards.
A statement from the Pennsylvania State Police's website is receiving a lot of local attention over what appears to be an erroneous statement concerning state and federal law.
The statement reads:
"It is unlawful for you to keep possession of any firearms which you owned or had in your possession prior to obtaining a medical marijuana card, and you should consult an attorney about the best way to dispose of your firearms."
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, state police spokesman Ryan Tarkowski suggested seeking legal counsel if a citizen possesses firearms before seeking and receiving medical marijuana.
"It’s unlawful to keep possession of firearms obtained prior to registering," Tarkowski said.
"The Pennsylvania State Police is not in the business of offering legal advice, but it might be a good idea to contact an attorney about how best to dispose of their firearms," Tarkowski suggested.
Criminal defense attorney Patrick Nightingale told KDKA-TV on Monday that the suggestions being pushed by the state police disturb him.
"It disturbs me greatly to see the Pennsylvania State Police put on their website references to federal law while ignoring the fact that it is legal under Pennsylvania law," Nightingale said.
"Firearms are woven into the fabric of our country," Nightingale added. "It’s the second most important right in the Bill of Rights."
Here's the catch
According to Pennsylvania state law, the use of medical marijuana is legal, and not a hindrance to owning a firearm. However, according to the state police website, Pennsylvania's legalization of medical marijuana is not federally recognized.
According to 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3) and 27 C.F.R. § 478.32(a)(3), possession of a medical marijuana card and the use of medical marijuana determines that a citizen is an "unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance."
Federal law prohibits an "unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance" from purchasing, acquiring, or possessing a firearm.
In short, federal law says it is illegal for a citizen to attempt the purchase of a firearm if they are a medical marijuana cardholder.
This isn't new information: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has held the position since 2011 that no one in possession of a medical marijuana card may also legally own a firearm.
Generally speaking, state police cannot enforce federal law unless a statute gives them express permission to do so. Pennsylvania law is somewhat ambiguous on this point, allowing the PSP make arrests "for all violations of the law," without specifying whether this includes federal law.
If marijuana is considered a controlled substance — much like opioids — then one might wonder why are opioid users permitted to own firearms.
Attorney Andrew Sacks, co-chair of the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Medical Marijuana and Hemp Law Committee, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the same thing.
"It’s hypocritical," Sacks said. "You can be an opioid addict, or buy a bottle of rum, drink it and go to a store and buy one. But a person who is registered as a medical marijuana patient in Pennsylvania, and has a very small dosage of THC, can’t own a gun to protect themselves or hunt."