Strange Bedfellows? Medical Marijuana and Gun Rights Activists Unite

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In Minnesota, two issues have become entwined unexpectedly. The first is the drive to exclude medical marijuana from the federal government's list of banned controlled substances. The second is the right for people to get a permit to buy and carry a gun.

The issue revolves around an effort by marijuana advocates to get the state's health leaders to petition the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to grant an exemption for the Minnesota marijuana program from the federal law that makes cannabis illegal.

They've won support for their cause from Republicans. That's because medical marijuana patients could get banned for life from owning a firearm if arrested for marijuana possession under current federal law.  

Thomas Gallagher of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition - Minnesota said in a press release:" Reducing or eliminating the criminal penalties we're seeing around marijuana is where we have consensus. Let's focus on the people who have small quantities. There is injustice in a trivial amount of marijuana resulting in life-changing punishments like imprisonment, criminal records, and lost jobs and kids." 

Minnesota could be a first

If the proposal is successful, Minnesota will become the first state to appeal to the federal government on behalf of the people in its medical marijuana program (36 states now have legal medical marijuana laws in place).

In Minnesota, more than 35,000 people are currently actively enrolled in the medical marijuana program. State leaders expect that number to multiply in the coming years as the state recently made cannabis flower legal for medical use. Previously, people could only use oils, pills, and liquid.

At the federal level, marijuana remains an illegal drug on par with cocaine and heroin. Under that law, using marijuana prohibits a person from purchasing a firearm. That includes those who use weed to treat medical issues.

 "All of those people will be denied the right to get a shotgun in the fall to go hunting," state Rep. Jeremy Munson told the Star Tribune.

More states to follow?

As more states allow medical marijuana use, tens of thousands of people will face a decision to either own a firearm or use a treatment prescribed to them by a doctor. 

Take Minnesota Rep. Rod Hamilton's current situation. He has multiple sclerosis, and both his physician and neurologist have told him that cannabis may help treat his symptoms. But once he enrolled in the program, he was told he could not renew his gun permit because federal law prohibits it.

"In the eyes of the federal government, we're all felons, and it's just tragic," Hamilton told the Star Tribune.

Time is an issue. The special session, which has a primary goal of finding agreement on a new state budget, is expected to end by July 1 at the latest.

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