Conflict between federal and state law have firearm owners cautious of obtaining MMJ card but advocates are fighting back


While many Ohioans are thrilled to finally receive their medical marijuana cards, because of disparities between state and federal laws, some are more hesitant.

Namely, gun owners. 

Those who posses a MMJ card are forbidden by federal law to purchase a firearm or ammunition. While there is no specific cross-reference list, people are required to admit to illegal drug use on a handgun permit application since it is technically illegal at the federal level.

When purchasing a firearm, one question on the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives form asks, “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug or any other controlled substance?”

A similar question is asked on the State of Ohio Application for License to Carry a Concealed Handgun (commonly known as CCW). The ATF form says certain violations of the Gun Control Act are punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000.



Nycole Brownfield is an activist for the legalization of MJJ with the group Veterans Ending the Stigma. The Twinsburg mother became involved because she has a child who suffers from epilepsy.

Brownfield comes from a large military family: her grandfather, brother, and several cousins are either retired or active duty. “I find it appalling that Constitutional Rights have been stricken from people that may or may not be physically capable of defending themselves while battling diseases like epilepsy or cancer,” Brownfield said. “You can have a firearm as a CCW holder in a bar. You can have prescription medicine where you aren’t able to operate heavy machinery or drive.” 

Grant Miller, a liaison with the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program, explains that the ATF released a letter in September 2011 that issues guidance on the subject of MMJ and owning firearms. The letter states, “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 an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance, and is prohibited by Federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition.”

The letter goes on to clarify: “The Federal government does not recognize marijuana as a medicine,” and that the letter “will use the terms ‘medical use’ and ‘medical purposes’ with the understanding that such use is not sanctioned by the federal agency charged with determining what substances are safe and effective as medicines.”


There have been several lawsuits filed by individuals over the past few years, and multiple states have proposed legislation to allow medical marijuana users to own firearms. But so far, none have made traction.

After a lawsuit brought by a Nevada woman was dismissed in court, a federal appeals court in 2016 determined that prohibiting MMJ users from purchasing a firearm did not violate the Second Amendment. In the decision, the court “affirmed the district court’s dismissal of a complaint challenging the federal statutes, regulations, and guidance that prevented plaintiff from buying a gun because she possesses a Nevada medical marijuana registry card.”

In November 2018, a Pennsylvania doctor (who is also a MMJ prescriber and card holder) sued the federal government after he was unable to purchase a firearm at a local gun store. That case is still pending.

In April, West Virginia Congressman Alexander Mooney introduced H.R. 2071 – the Second Amendment Protection Act, which provides exemptions for MMJ use from grounds for firearm and ammunition prohibitions.The bill has been stalled in a subcommittee since May but did pick up a co-sponsor in KY Rep. Thomas Massie in June. Massie has been a vocal supporter of allowing firearm owners to use medicinal cannabis.

Another vocal supporter is Tom Knighton. Knighton is a Georgia-based Navy veteran and blogger who writes about Second Amendment issues. He wants to see H.R. 2071 come to fruition. “The law seeks to change that aspect and make it so marijuana can enjoy a different status at the federal level,” Knighton said. “It won’t truly legalize or even decriminalize it, but it will make it so gun buyers aren’t required to either give up their Second Amendment rights or perjure themselves by lying on the form.”

In the meantime, until there is a massive shift at the federal level, Ohioans who have a MMJ card and wish to purchase a firearm in the future need to be aware of state and federal laws. It’s a tough decision for many and one with a fate that is still unknown.

Josh Blair is an adjunct professor of communication at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Northern Kentucky University and a master’s degree from Ohio University.