The Honolulu Police Department is ordering legal cannabis patients to “voluntarily surrender” any guns they own because pot is still considered an illegal drug under federal law.
The initiative continues three months after Hawaii’s first medical marijuana dispensary opened for business.
“Your medical marijuana use disqualifies you from ownership of firearms and ammunition,” Honolulu police Chief Susan Ballard wrote in a Nov. 13 letter to one medical marijuana card holder. “If you currently own or have any firearms, you have 30 days upon receipt of this letter to voluntarily surrender your firearms, permit and ammunition to the Honolulu Police Department or otherwise transfer ownership.”
In the letter, Ballard cites Hawaii Revised Statutes, Section 134-7 (a) as the reason for the move. That section reads, “No person who is a fugitive from justice or is a person prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition under federal law shall own, possess, or control any firearm or ammunition.”
Federal law prohibits an “unlawful user” of any controlled substance from possessing firearms, and under federal law, marijuana is a controlled substance.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said in a September 2011 letter, “Any person who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of whether his or her state has passed legislation authorizing marijuana use for medicinal purposes … is prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition.”
The federal government ban on the sale of guns to medical marijuana card holders does not violate the Second Amendment, according to an August 2016 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court said Congress reasonably concluded that marijuana and other drug use “raises the risk of irrational or unpredictable behavior with which gun use should not be associated.”
Thirty medical marijuana card holders have received such letters since Jan. 1, said department spokeswoman MIchelle Yu.
HPD began mailing letters to firearm registrants when the department gained access to the marijuana registry database run by the state Department of Health, Yu said. The state revised its permit application to acquire firearms earlier this month to include the use of medical marijuana as grounds for disqualification, she said.
HPD said patients would be required to provide a medical doctor’s clearance for any future firearm applications or to have their guns returned by the police department. Marijuana patients must wait one year after the expiration of their medical cannabis cards to reapply for a gun permit.
“Checking the database is now part of the department’s standard background verification for all gun applicants,” Yu said. She didn’t give a reason why HPD hasn’t enforced the law since 2000 when the state first legalized medical marijuana.
Chinatown resident James Logue, 32, a gun owner and disabled veteran who supports the use of medical cannabis, said going after patients is “ridiculous.”
“There’s plenty of people on prescription pain medications who are a lot more dangerous,” he said. “If you look at all the mass shootings and the shootings in Chinatown and Waikiki, it’s illegal drug use, it’s prescription medication. It’s a waste of time and resources, especially because there are plenty people who’ve committed domestic violence and sexual assault, and they’re still out there with their weapons and they’re not being told to turn them in.”
The stigmatization of marijuana patients is troubling, said Carl Bergquist, executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii.
“The labeling of medical cannabis patients as a danger lumped under the category of ‘mental incompetence/impairment,’ with the assumption that all patients are impaired, is one that is not based on reality,” he said.
Chris Garth, executive director of the Hawaii Dispensary Alliance, added that HPD’s interpretation of the federal law is misguided.
“Medical cannabis is not a public safety issue, it’s a public health issue,” Garth said. “And to continue to criminalize medical cannabis patients is archaic and wildly inappropriate.”
Marijuana patient Randy Gonce, an Air Force veteran who lives in Kaneohe, said that he previously owned firearms in Hawaii.
“I currently do not anymore. A lot of the reason I do not is because I was afraid of something like this, especially with the new administration,” he said. “There should be realistic regulations around weapons, absolutely. (But) it’s kind of criminalizing patients who are receiving medical care. It’s almost making us feel like we’re doing something wrong. As someone who takes gun ownership and laws very seriously, it’s upsetting that this is now the tone of the HPD. It’s unfortunate it’s happening now that our medical marijuana program is up and running. It’s unfortunate that we have to be cautious when we’re trying to better ourselves.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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