HELENA – A federal ban on selling guns or ammunition to medical marijuana users raises constitutional concerns and complicates matters for states where medical use of the drug is legal, Montana’s attorney general said Monday.
Steve Bullock wrote U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder a letter in which he says the federal government should act carefully “when its laws and policies involve conflicts with those of the states.”
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives last month notified firearms dealers nationwide that medical marijuana users are not exempt from a federal law making it illegal for a drug user or addict to possess a gun or ammunition, even if they are registered in a state-sanctioned program.
The ATF’s Sept. 21 letter to federal firearms licensees said dealers can’t sell a gun or ammunition if they have reasonable cause to believe the buyer is using a controlled substance, such as if the buyer uses his medical marijuana card as identification or talks about drug use.
Bullock said the ATF’s “unilateral proclamation” raises Second Amendment and Fifth Amendment issues about gun rights, equal protection and due process. In addition, the letter creates policy and practical concerns, such as the responsibility placed on firearms dealers, he said.
“I think the federal government should be real careful and we would like to have had a discussion about this before getting the ATF letter,” Bullock said.
The Department of Justice did not have immediate comment when contacted on Monday.
Some 16 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana. Bullock wrote Holder that some of those states have tried to address abuses of those marijuana laws.
“In doing so, however, we also 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,” Bullock’s letter read.
Asked to elaborate, Bullock told The Associated Press that federal policy has been inconsistent in its approach to medical marijuana, even as the Montana Legislature worked to pass a law earlier this year that sought to fix apparent abuses of the system.
“At times, this has been complicated by the federal government,” he said.
State lawmakers this spring passed restrictions on who can qualify as a medical marijuana cardholder and also barred commercial marijuana operations. While legislators were considering changes to the law, federal agents raided medical marijuana growers across the state, prompting accusations by several growers that the U.S. government was trying to influence the legislative process.
Parts of the new law have been temporarily blocked by a judge while a legal challenge goes through the court system.
Bullock said he would like to work with the Department of Justice to find a reasonable solution to the problems created by the ATF letter, but he did not have an immediate proposal and said he was awaiting an answer to his letter.
“I’m hopeful they’ll give careful consideration and provide a response,” he said.
Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, said Bullock’s letter is a step in the right direction, but he’d like to see Bullock and other state officials follow up with “actual deeds.”
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