A new directive from the federal government’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives concerning the rights of medical marijuana patients to own or possess firearms runs contrary to state and federal law and should not be enforced, Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock told the U.S. Justice Department Monday.
As hunting season draws near, Montanans are buying guns and ammunition and “preparing to enjoy an activity that is deeply rooted in our heritage and culture,” Bullock told Attorney General Eric Holder in a Monday letter.
The ATF’s edict that marijuana users may not own or possess firearms or ammunition “implicates serious legal issues under the Second Amendment, and the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fifth Amendment,” Bullock said. It also flies in the face of the state constitution, which protects the right to hunt.
Bullock said some medical marijuana cardholders may not use the drug all of the time, yet the firearm restriction would apply to them for as long as the card was valid. Also, marijuana patients must have the written authorization of a physician to obtain a card, a fact the ATF ignored.
“The ATF letter does not take this into account, even though the controlling federal regulation recognizes that a person who uses a controlled substance in a manner prescribed by a physician is not disqualified from possessing or buying ammunition or guns” under federal law, he said.
Bullock acknowledged abuses of Montana’s medical marijuana law, but urged Holder to “work constructively” to solve the problems and tread lightly on states’ rights.
“...We face issues that are, candidly, created or exacerbated by federal actions and policies that do not always reflect the kind of careful approach and appropriate accommodation that should be accorded the states,” he said.
He asked Holder to not prosecute any medical marijuana cardholders “who exercise their constitutional rights to possess guns and enjoy hunting.”
His letter follows on the heels of one written last week by Sen. Jon Tester, who told Holder to “immediately reconsider this misguided effort.”
Arthur Herbert, assistant director of the ATF, issued a Sept. 21 memo clarifying that federal law prohibits anyone who is an “unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance’’ from possessing firearms. Marijuana is classified as a controlled substance.
The memo said firearms dealers can’t sell a gun or ammunition if they have “reasonable cause to believe’’ the buyer is using a controlled substance.
“These regulatory changes infringe upon the privacy and Second Amendment rights of Montanans while placing an unreasonable burden upon the small business owners who sell firearms and ammunition,’’ Tester wrote.
“It is unacceptable that law-abiding citizens would be stripped of their Second Amendment rights simply because they hold a state-issued card authorizing the possession and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes,’’ Tester added.
Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, through his spokesman Jed Link, criticized the policy and the Obama administration.
“Between the ATF clamping down on gun rights and two new anti-gun Supreme Court justices, Montanans’ Second Amendment rights are once again under fire from Washington,’’ Link said.
Sen. Max Baucus said he will continue to defend individual gun rights.
“I’m concerned to hear ATF may be impeding the rights of law-abiding folks,’’ Baucus said. “Individual gun rights must be protected and I’ll never stop fighting to make sure they stay intact.’’