Nevada lawmaker seeks gun rights for legal marijuana users

A North Las Vegas Democrat has introduced a bill in the Nevada Senate that would allow medical marijuana users to possess a firearm and obtain a carry permit.

As part of a bevy of legislation in the state Senate addressing medical marijuana reform introduced this session, one measure would help to preserve the gun rights of those with a cannabis card.

Sponsored by state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, his bill would update Nevada law with the respect that the holder of a valid medical marijuana registry card would not be deemed to be an “unlawful user of, or addicted to,” a controlled substance solely based on having a card. Current state law bars firearm possession by those so classified and requires a sheriff to automatically deny applications for concealed carry permits to the more than 15,000 residents with a registered medical marijuana card. Under Atkinson’s proposal, this would change.

It remains to be seen if Atkinson’s proposal would trump federal law and policy in place banning guns for those who use legal marijuana for therapeutic purposes. Currently, at least 28 states and the District of Columbia have statutes to allow the legal use of cannabis for authorized patients while others have legalized cannabis-derived treatments. However, the ATF has long held that any sale or possession of firearms by those who use marijuana, even if allowed by state law, remains criminal.

Since 2000, Nevada has granted marijuana registration cards exempting those who hold them from state prosecution for marijuana-related crimes and one card holder — refused a gun sale in 2011 solely because she had a card — filed suit in federal court against the government on First, Second and Fifth Amendment grounds. Last September the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld lower court rulings in her case, saying that refusing gun sales to otherwise law-abiding cannabis patients does not violate their Second Amendment rights.

Last November, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives released a revised version of Form 4473, explicitly warning gun buyers “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.”

As for Atkinson, he has been something of a moving target when it comes to gun legislation. Carrying a “C” rating from the National Rifle Association last year, he joined with Republicans in 2015 to vote for a GOP-backed bill allowing foster parents who are law enforcement officers or concealed weapons permit holders to possess guns. In 2013, he went with Democrats on a measure later vetoed by Gov. Sandoval to expand mandated background checks to private gun transfers, citing the fatal shooting of his father.

His marijuana gun rights measure has been referred to Committee on Judiciary.