LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (August 13, 2023) – An Arkansas law went into effect this month that prohibits the Arkansas State Police from denying a concealed carry license on the basis of an individual’s use of medical marijuana under state law.
Rep. Aaron Pilkington sponsored HB1784. The bill amends existing state law to include the following provisions:
The director shall not consider a person’s status as a qualifying patient or designated caregiver under the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016, Arkansas Constitution, Amendment 98, § 2, in determining whether an applicant is eligible to be issued a license to carry a concealed handgun under this subchapter.
An applicant shall not be considered to chronically or habitually abuse a controlled substance based solely on the applicant’s status as a qualifying patient or designated caregiver under the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016, Arkansas Constitution, Amendment 98.
The new law also prohibits the State Department of Health from sharing marijuana patient information with the State Police.
Arkansas does not require residents to obtain a concealed carry permit, but it remains an option for those who choose to do so.
HB1784 cleared the House by an 82-5 vote before passing in the State Senate with a 26-3 vote. With Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s signature, the law went into effect Aug. 1.
As Suzanne Sherman has noted, the federal government has long claimed the power to restrict the right to keep and bear arms of medical marijuana patients:
If you purchase a firearm from an FFL, you will be presented with the Firearms Transaction Record form 4473, which you must, under penalty of perjury, answer fully and truthfully. You may see it for yourself HERE.
Question 11(c) asks prospective gun purchasers if they are unlawfully using any controlled substances. You think, “Hey, I can answer ‘no,’ as marijuana is now legal in my state. Immediately following the inquiry is the following admonition (in bold letters):
“Warning: The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law, regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside.”
Not surprisingly, in 2016, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of appeals ruled that this restriction does not violate the Second Amendment.
Most states have formally adopted this federal ban on owning firearms for medical marijuana users, or simply help in its enforcement. For instance, police in Hawaii sent letters to medical marijuana patients who owned guns telling them they had 30 days to surrender their weapons.
While laws protecting the right to keep and bear arms of medical marijuana patients do not overturn the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, they do remove the state and local enforcement arm of that unconstitutional act as it applies to medical marijuana users in Arkansas.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
While medical marijuana has become widely accepted across the U.S., the federal government still claims it is illegal. As we’ve seen with immigration sanctuary cities, when state and local enforcement ends, the federal government has an extremely difficult time enforcing their acts.
Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains a complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Arkansas voters approved a ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana in 2016, removing a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the state even though federal prohibition remains in effect. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. In 2021, New York, New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action, and Rhode Island legalized cannabis for adult use in 2022. With Missouri and Maryland legalizing marijuana in November 2022, and Delaware joining in 2023, there are now 38 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 23 legalizing it for adult recreational use.
The lesson here is pretty straightforward. As Tenth Amendment Center Executive Director Michael Boldin noted, “When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations, or mandates down our throats.”
The passage of HB1784 demonstrates an important strategic point. Passing bills that take a step forward sets the stage, even if they are limited in scope. Opening the door clears the way for additional steps. You can’t take the second step before you take the first.
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