Law enforcement waiting on clarification over conflicting MN marijuana and gun permit laws

Law enforcement waiting on clarification over conflicting MN marijuana and gun permit laws

Law enforcement waiting on clarification over conflicting MN marijuana and gun permit laws

Law enforcement officials are sounding the alarm when it comes to issuing gun permits to current and active marijuana users.

Under state law, a person 21 years and older using cannabis products cannot be denied the right to own or possess a gun, even if they’re using cannabis for medicinal purposes. The new regulations directly go against federal law, which prohibits current and active cannabis users from owning or possessing firearms.

Rick Hodsdon, the general counsel for the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, says they’ve been waiting months for some kind of clarification but have been left in the dark with little guidance from the state.

“They (sheriffs and police chiefs) have to decide which law to break,” Hodsdon said. “So, their options are to issue a permit and violate the part of state law that says they’re not supposed to and also risk a claim that they’re assisting a violation of federal law. The other option is to refuse to issue a permit on the grounds that someone is a user of illegal controlled substances as defined by federal law.”

Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson has made up his mind that he will lean on federal laws by denying gun permits for active cannabis users.

“Do we really want people who profess to or have proven to be using marijuana on a regular basis also carrying a weapon? That’s really what it comes down to is public safety,” Torgerson said.

Hodsdon says law enforcement agencies have come to a consensus that if they have evidence a person is an active user of an illegal controlled substance and has a disqualifying conviction of their records, they will not be issued the gun permit.

“They will not actively look and seek out people who have current active users of the marijuana and use that as a basis to deny a purchase or a carry permit,” Hodsdon clarified.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked whether denying cannabis users the right to purchase or carry violates the Second Amendment.

“Well, not yet, at least,” said Hodsdon. “In fact, the federal cases that have addressed that thus far have said it’s not a Second Amendment violation to have these kinds of prohibitions in place.”

Under the new law, the state is working to expunge low-level marijuana convictions, which means it will no longer be a factor in gun permits. Just last month, a Fifth Circuit U.S. Appeals Court opinion ruled that banning a person from carrying a weapon based on past drug use is deemed unconstitutional. Hodsdon says an expungement doesn’t necessarily mean your firearm authority is restored.

“The new Cannabis Expungement Board will address felony-level offenses,” he said. “They could look at it and say we’re not going to grant you relief at all.”

Hodsdon says the universal position that all law enforcement has taken across the country when it comes to gun permits is that no active marijuana users should possess and own a firearm, much like how a peace officer would not be hired if he or she is actively using marijuana.

The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office tells 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS it’ll be meeting with a focus group in the next couple of weeks to get more clarification on the issue.

In May, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) provided clarification related to the new MN marijuana law. In part, it states “a current user of marijuana is still federally defined as an ‘unlawful user’ of a controlled substance and therefore is prohibited from shipping, transporting, receiving, or possessing firearms or ammunition.”

“Until marijuana is legalized federally, firearms owners and possessors should be mindful that it remains federally illegal to mix marijuana with firearms and ammunition,” said ATF’s Acting Special Agent in Charge Jeff Reed, of the St. Paul Field Division. “As regulators of the firearms industry and enforcers of firearms laws, we felt it was important to remind Minnesotans of this distinction as the marijuana laws adjust here in the State of Minnesota.”

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension says it recognizes there’s a conflict in the law and encourages law enforcement agencies to consult with their city or county attorney.