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Smoking gun: Some Pennsylvanians have to make the decision between marijuana and their guns

  • Ariel Worthy/WESA
Federally marijuana cardholders cannot own firearms. But some lawmakers are trying to change that.

 Ariel Worthy / WESA

Federally marijuana cardholders cannot own firearms. But some lawmakers are trying to change that.

(Pittsburgh) — Nancy Black has a host of health problems, including arthritis, fibromyalgia and asthma, and she used to have to take opioids every 12 hours for her pain. However, in 2018 she decided to stop taking her medication, which included OxyContin, and to use medical marijuana instead.

“There’s no easy days when you have [those] kind of [health problems], but I’m taking something safer now, and I feel better,” Black said.

Black is 72 years old, and said her grandson, Shane Murphy, would plead for her to try to use marijuana for her pain.

“I said no because it was illegal and I was a role model,” she said. “Well, it’s legal now and I’m still a role model.”

After getting a medical marijuana card last year, she’s the one advocating for cannabis use and full legalization.

“I just think it’s funny because back in the day I used to be like ‘this is [cannabis strain] White Widow, this is a Sativa, and she’d be like, ‘okay,’” Murphy said. “Now she walks in the dispensary, ‘this is White Widow, this is…’ it’s just funny to see where things are now.”

And now, it’s Black who is pushing for Murphy to get his own medical marijuana card. But he refuses to because it would mean he would lose the right to own guns.

“That’s the only reason I don’t have a medical card is simply because I’m not willing to give up my concealed carry,” he said.

While the state of Pennsylvania says an individual with a qualified health issue can get a medical card and use marijuana, it’s still illegal according to federal law and classified as a controlled substance and a Schedule 1 drug. That means anyone who uses marijuana would lose certain rights, including owning a firearm.

Murphy’s brother Brandon, who also suffers from anxiety, said the decision was easy for him.

“I’ve never once needed a gun, so when I weigh out my odds, I don’t see the value in me sacrificing my medical card for a firearm,” he said.

But Kim Stolfer of Firearm Owners Against Crime said it’s unfair for people to have to make that choice.

“Medical marijuana has its medical benefits,” he said. “It seems almost like the legislature has adopted this rigid, no holds barred, ‘we’re going to put you in a box,’ type category.”

Stolfer said when it comes to marijuana, many people have complained to him about having to make the decision to get their card or keep their guns; many, he said, choose to keep their guns.

Some lawmakers are attempting to address the issue. Congressman Alex Mooney (R-W.VA) introduced legislation that would exempt medical marijuana cardholders from the federal ban, and allow them to own firearms. The bill was introduced in April and has been mostly stagnant since. Other legislators in states like Maryland are also trying to pass legislation to exempt medical cannabis users from being banned from owning firearms.

Meanwhile, Shane Murphy said he is considering waiting for the state to legalize marijuana recreationally.

“I believe that once it becomes recreational, there will be a lot more leniency with it,” Murphy said.

And Pennsylvania is trying to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Earlier this year, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman visited all 67 Pennsylvania counties on a listening tour to get residents’ thoughts on recreational marijuana. Fetterman said most residents supported legalization, but that in some rural counties people raised concerns about their second amendment rights. Yet, he said he thinks the rule would be difficult to enforce because a person’s medical records are private.

“They can’t be released or disseminated without your consent,” Fetterman said. “So I’m not sure how they would be able to cross-check that legally.”

Pennsylvania lawmakers have introduced bills that would legalize adult marijuana use. However, they face an uphill battle with a Republican-controlled legislature, which has said its caucus “has no plans or interest in legalizing recreational marijuana.”

Find more stories in WESA’s series, The State of Cannabis.

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