Will Texans Give up Gun Rights to Get Medical Marijuana?

‘I’m not going to trade my rights like baseball cards…’

Pa. Patients Must Choose: Medical Marijuana or Gun Ownership

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(Rebekah Allen and James Barragán, The Dallas Morning News) For years, Joshua Raines has been using marijuana illegally to treat the epilepsy and PTSD he developed during his five years in the Army.

His diagnosis was set off after suffering a traumatic brain injury during a bomb explosion while in Afghanistan.

Raines, 31, has been eligible for a legal prescription of medical marijuana since 2015, when Texas lawmakers approved the Compassionate Use Program for patients with intractable epilepsy.

But Raines, who lives in Springtown, about an hour west of Dallas, has resisted seeking out a prescription. If he did, the veteran and Purple Heart recipient would give up his right to purchase a gun.

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“Why am I going to give up one of my rights because I found an organic plant that some are uncomfortable with?” he said. “I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to trade my rights like baseball cards.”

Across the country, states have incrementally embraced legalizing medical marijuana despite its federal classification as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Federal law enforcement has largely looked the other way, deferring to state legislatures when it comes to medical cannabis — but not when it comes to guns, which are illegal to buy under federal law if you use marijuana.

And nowhere does this hit harder than gun-loving Texas, where advocates like Raines lined up to call for expanding the list of conditions eligible for medical marijuana during the legislative session but are now thinking twice about whether they’re willing to give up their ability to purchase a firearm.

“To tell Texans you can’t purchase a firearm if you have a compassionate use card is unconscionable,” said Rachel Malone, Texas director for Gun Owners of America. “We should not force people to choose between gun ownership and taking care of themselves.”

When purchasing a gun, buyers fill out an application that determines if there are any state or federal laws that would make the sale illegal. They answer questions like: Are you a fugitive from justice? Have you been committed to a mental institution? Are you under indictment?

The application asks if the buyer is a user of, or addicted to, “marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance.” And it explicitly details that medical marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

“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,” the application says.

This year, the state Legislature made medical marijuana accessible to more Texans by expanding the Compassionate Use Act. The law, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed Friday, allows specialty doctors to prescribe cannabis that contains 0.5% tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, for ailments including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, terminal cancer, autism, incurable neurodegenerative disease and spasticity.

Texas also legalized any hemp or hemp-derived products containing less than 0.3% THC, including cannabidiol, or CBD, oil.

As of the end of May, 750 people had registered for the state’s medical marijuana program. Advocates estimate the list of eligible people could expand to 1 million under the new law.

State Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, a nurse who authored the bill and supports gun rights, said the Legislature can’t address the gun issue because it runs up against federal law.

She also said she’d be surprised if any person authorized to use medical marijuana under the law were buying new firearms. She wrote the bill to be very narrow about which kinds of patients could use medical marijuana — mostly people with seriously debilitating illnesses.

“These are very sick people,” she said. “People with spasticity have mobility issues. People with ALS over time will become ventilator-dependent. They’re not going to go out and buy guns.”

But Rick Hardcastle, a rancher and former Texas lawmaker, said there are people who meet the threshold of the new law who will still want to exercise their Second Amendment right.

“If you’re in your 20s and 30s and you have MS or Parkinson’s, you may not be through buying guns,” he said.

Hardcastle, who has multiple sclerosis, said he has more guns than most “women have shoes.” He said he plans to be first in line to get a prescription for medical marijuana under the new expansion because he’s experimented with hemp oil and found that it’s given him some relief.

But, he said he doesn’t plan on buying more guns and hesitates to criticize the federal restriction because he hasn’t tried medical marijuana yet.

For his part, Raines said he’ll continue to use medical marijuana even if he has to do it illegally. It’s brought down the number of seizures he’s had from 30 or 40 a month to two or three. He said he uses it sparingly, only when he feels a seizure about to come on, because he recognizes it’s a legally risky substance to possess.

But it’s the only thing that has helped his condition, he said, so he’s not going to give it up, and he’s not going to get a legal prescription because he won’t relinquish his right to purchase a firearm.

“I fought for the right to bear arms. It’s literally in our Constitution for me to be able to own a gun,” he said. “For the state of Texas that is the most pro-gun, I think it’s ridiculous I would have to trade one of my rights.”

©2019 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.