Gun Ownership for MMJ Patients in Pennsylvania?

Can You Own a Gun with a Medical Card in Pennsylvania?

No. An individual who uses marijuana, or possesses a medical marijuana card, in Pennsylvania is prohibited from possessing or attempting to purchase a firearm. While many states have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, marijuana use is still illegal under federal law. According to 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(3), "an unlawful user" of a controlled substance is prohibited from possessing or attempting to buy a gun. Since marijuana use for any purpose is illegal under federal law, its use for medical purposes is considered unlawful. Hence, any marijuana user is prohibited under federal law from possessing or attempting to purchase a firearm in Pennsylvania.

Can Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Patients Legally Carry Firearms Without Permits?

It is illegal for Pennsylvania medical cannabis patients to carry firearms. While the state requires a concealed carry permit to conceal carry a firearm, MMJ patients are banned from possessing firearms under federal law. Per Section 6109(e)(1)(xiv) of Chapter 18 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, anyone prohibited from possessing or purchasing a firearm under the statutes of the United States cannot obtain a license to carry firearms in Pennsylvania.

Does Pennsylvania Require Background Checks for MMJ Patients Seeking Gun Licenses?

Under 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 6111, anyone purchasing a gun must undergo a criminal background check with the PICS (Pennsylvania Instant Check System). If you are purchasing a gun from a federal firearm licensee, you must undergo a background check. MMJ patients who indicate that they are medical marijuana users on the Firearms Transaction Records form will be ineligible to undergo the criminal background check required to complete their applications. Therefore, their gun license applications will be denied.

Can You Get a Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Card After Getting a Gun License?

While you may be able to obtain a Pennsylvania medical marijuana card after getting a gun license, as the state’s medical marijuana law does not specifically prohibit firearms owners, you are at serious risk of federal law violation due to the prohibition on possessing both medical marijuana and gun licenses at the same time. However, at the expiration of your medical marijuana card, you may obtain a gun license from the state.

Legal History of Gun Ownership for MMJ Patients in Pennsylvania

Gun rights protection for medical marijuana users is a recurring issue in Pennsylvania since medical marijuana became legal in the state. In January 2018, the Pennsylvania Department of Health made a significant policy adjustment by deciding not to disclose the identities of medical marijuana patients to law enforcement agencies. Initially, the department had implemented a policy intending to include the names of registered medical marijuana patients in a law enforcement database, aiming to protect them from potential charges related to marijuana possession. However, upon recognizing the potential implications that this information could have on the firearm ownership rights of medical marijuana patients, the department reversed its stance.

In April 2018, Matthew Roman, a Pennsylvania doctor, attempted to purchase a gun at a local Philadelphia gun store but was turned down once the firearms seller became aware of the doctor's marijuana status. In response, the doctor filed a lawsuit seeking to ensure the protection of gun ownership rights for medical marijuana patients. The doctor's attorney argued that the federal ban on firearms for medical marijuana patients was unjust since alcoholics were not prohibited from possessing firearms.

In 2023, Senator Dan Laughlin called on law enforcement in the state to take steps to protect gun rights for medical marijuana users, especially medical marijuana patients. In a letter sent to the acting commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police, Senator Dan Laughlin pointed to a federal judge ruling that the United States ban on gun ownership by marijuana users was unconstitutional.

However, despite these initiatives, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has yet to enact a law to permit medical marijuana patients to possess firearms legally.

What Federal Law Says About the Firearm Rights of Medical Marijuana Users

Under federal law, medical cannabis card holders are prohibited from owning or using guns. The Second Amendment provides that the right of a United States citizen to keep and bear arms must not be infringed. Generally, this has been interpreted to mean citizens can have as much firearms and ammunition as they want. However, there are limited exceptions to the Second Amendment provisions as disclosed under the federal Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968.

The GCA of 1968 states that an "unlawful" user of a controlled substance, such as marijuana, may not be allowed to possess or own firearms. Note that under the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970, marijuana is a banned substance with no accepted medical use. Hence, the GCA affirms that even medical marijuana users in jurisdictions where medical marijuana has been legalized must not be sold firearms by federal firearms licensees.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) emphasized the federal position on the matter in an open letter issued to all federal firearms licensees in 2011. The letter states that a gun dealer who sells firearms to an individual whom the seller has reasonable cause to believe is a marijuana user violates federal law. In 2017, the ATF added an explicit warning to Form 4473, which is a requirement for all gun buyers. The form asks a gun buyer if they are an "unlawful" user of marijuana or a marijuana addict. If the buyer answers yes, the firearms seller risks committing a federal felony if a sale is made to such an individual. By law, medical marijuana patients are required to answer yes. If an MMJ patient answers no, such patients may be charged with perjury, punishable with up to a 10-year jail term.

United States courts have largely held the federal position on gun rights for MMJ patients. In 2016, MMJ gun rights advocates received a legal setback in the Wilson v. Lynch case. Although the ruling only applies to the nine states in the appeals court jurisdiction, the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the GCA of 1968 does not violate MMJ patients' Second Amendment rights.

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