U.S. appeals court rules medical pot cardholders can be denied guns

(Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld federal regulations that prevented a woman with a medical marijuana card from buying a firearm in Nevada, in a ruling that cited the government’s interest in preventing gun violence.

In upholding a lower-court ruling, a three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals set a legal precedent that lower courts in the western U.S. states under the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit must follow in similar cases.

The lawsuit was brought by S. Rowan Wilson, who in 2011 obtained a medical marijuana card in Nevada and a few months later sought to buy a firearm in the small town of Mound House.

The firearms dealer, who knew Wilson had a medical marijuana card, refused to sell her the gun, according to court papers.

Like other firearms dealers, he had received a directive from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) advising dealers against selling guns to medical marijuana users, according to court papers.

Medical marijuana is allowed in Nevada and more than 20 other U.S. states, but the drug remains banned under federal law.

Wilson, who claimed she had a medical marijuana card but did not use the drug, filed a lawsuit in Nevada against the federal government, claiming her rights under the U.S. Constitution were violated by the ATF letter to gun dealers.

In 2014, a district court judge granted a motion from federal attorneys to dismiss the case, prompting Wilson to appeal the decision. The Ninth Circuit panel upheld the lower-court’s decision to throw out the case.

The appeals court, in a 30-page opinion from Judge Jed Rakoff, acknowledged Wilson’s right to bear arms under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution had been infringed to some extent.

But it said the government had a “substantial interest” in preventing gun violence by seeking to prevent drug users from possessing firearms and that it was reasonable to assume someone with a medical pot card would use the drug.

“It is beyond dispute that illegal drug users, including marijuana users, are likely ... to experience altered or impaired mental states that affect their judgment and that can lead to irrational or unpredictable behavior,” Rakoff wrote in the opinion.

A representative for the National Rifle Association could not immediately be reached for comment.

“Seriously ill patients who use medical marijuana should be treated the same as patients who use any other doctor-approved medication,” the Marijuana Policy Project said in a statement.