GOP lawmaker says he'll fight to ensure gun rights for marijuana patients

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State Sen. Mike Folmer (R., Lebanon) and State Sen. Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson). Folmer (left) said he would appeal to Congress to reschedule marijuana so that medical cannabis patients might still own firearms. Because of federal law, patients have no Second Amendment rights. Scarnati said he would cosponsor the resolution.

A Republican state legislator in Pennsylvania said he would call on the U.S. Congress to protect the Second Amendment rights of medical marijuana patients.

State Sen. Mike Folmer (R., Lebanon) will introduce a resolution to amend the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, he said. The law currently prevents anyone who consumes marijuana for any reason from owning a firearm. State Sen. Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson), the Senate president pro tempore, is on board to cosponsor the resolution.

Federal law prohibits gun ownership by anyone who is deemed “an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance.” The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration considers marijuana a Schedule 1 drug, without any approved medical use, and the equivalent of LSD and heroin.

Pennsylvania and 28 other states have made marijuana available for medicinal purposes. Folmer was a prime mover behind legalizing the substance for treating 17 serious health conditions. The law Folmer cowrote with State Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery) states “scientific evidence suggests that medical marijuana is one potential therapy that may mitigate suffering in some patients and also enhance quality of life.”

“As Republicans, we’re supposed to be about limited government and states’ rights,” Folmer said in an interview Friday. “We have thousands of patients who are good citizens, and close to 70 percent of this medicine is going to be non-psychotropic, so in most cases there’ll be no impairment.”

It will take an act of Congress, however, to amend the federal gun control law’s language. That could be difficult without the nation’s most powerful gun-rights organization. The NRA has said it has no interest in entering a debate involving medical cannabis, and has advised marijuana patients to lobby to change the law themselves.

Folmer wants to light a fire under federal lawmakers.

“I’m hoping to get Congress to move marijuana off Schedule 1 so people don’t have to be fearful of losing their weapons,” Folmer said.

Folmer has his work cut out for him. On Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era policy that has allowed state marijuana programs to flourish without federal intervention.

About 11,000 people in Pennsylvania have registered so far to become medical marijuana patients, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health said on Friday. Though cannabis oils, tinctures, and lotions won’t be available until February, at the earliest, nearly 450 people already have received identification cards attesting that they have registered.

One patient, suffering from Crohn’s disease, told the Inquirer and Daily News he had attempted to buy a .22-caliber rifle before Christmas but the gun dealer refused to sell him the firearm after he checked the box on his federal questionnaire indicating he was in the program. If he had not volunteered the information, a state police background would have flagged him, stopping the sale.

Gun dealers in all states are forbidden by the ATF from selling firearms to anyone who admits to using cannabis or anyone a dealer suspects may be using it. In 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that banning sales to medical marijuana users did not violate the Second Amendment.

The Pennsylvania State Police issued a statement in late December that said that due to the federal law, patients might be refused a license when they applied for renewal.

Gov. Wolf, however, told radio station WESA-FM in Pittsburgh that the state would not seek out patients who own firearms.

“We’re not going to take their guns away,” he said.