Pubdate: Fri, 4 Mar 2011
Source: Ashland Daily Tidings (OR)
Copyright: 2011 Ashland Daily Tidings
Author: Damian Mann


Medford Woman Denied Permit Because She Has Medical Marijuana Card

The Oregon Supreme Court Thursday debated whether a state statute is 
at odds with federal law in a case involving a Medford marijuana 
patient who was denied a concealed weapons permit.

Appearing before nearly 200 law school students, the seven justices 
convened at Willamette University College of Law in Salem and focused 
on whether the statute conflicts with the intent of the federal Gun 
Control Act of 1968.

The patient, Cynthia Townsley Willis, was initially denied the permit 
by Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters, who said her possession of a 
medical marijuana card indicated she was a drug user. Willis 
currently has a concealed weapon's license, which Winters approved 
after the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled against him.

Winters, along with the sheriff in Washington County, appealed the 
case to the Supreme Court.

Attorneys from both sides presented their case Thursday, responding 
to questions from the justices. A decision on the case is not 
expected for months.

Oregon Revised Statute 166.291 has a list of requirements for 
concealed weapons permit applicants, but doesn't specifically exclude 
someone who uses drugs.

Willis, who wore her concealed weapons permit around her neck, said 
both she and Winters had hoped the Legislature would clear up the 
legal ambiguity surrounding the Oregon statute.

"Sheriff Winters and I both wanted this, but the Legislature wouldn't 
do it, so we're relying on this," she said after the hearing.

Jackson County Sgt. Bob Grantham, who said Winters had other 
obligations and couldn't attend the hearing, said he felt the 
proceedings went well.

"It is an important legal issue, and we are lucky to have these 
people deciding that," he said.

Winters denied Willis' gun permit in 2008, arguing that granting the 
permit would violate a federal law prohibiting illegal drug users 
from possessing guns.

Willis prevailed in two previous court battles with Winters, with 
both the Jackson County Circuit Court and the Oregon Court of Appeals 
siding with her in 2010.

Willis volunteers with Patient Services, a nonprofit group that helps 
people obtain medical marijuana cards. She has previously said she 
takes medical marijuana because of severe back spasms.

Assistant Jackson County Counsel Ryan Kirchoff, presenting Winters' 
case, told the court the state statute stands as an obstacle to 
enforcement of the Gun Control Act. He said that if Winters granted 
the concealed weapons permit to a medical marijuana user he would be 
in violation of federal law.

"States can regulate to make things more strict, but they can't go in 
the opposite direction," he said.

He said the authorization to carry a concealed weapon gives the 
holder a right that is otherwise prevented by federal law.

"The license authorizes conduct," Kirchoff said.

Kirchoff noted that this case is not about challenging the wisdom of 
the medical marijuana act.

Willis' attorney Leland Berger told the court Willis and others who 
want concealed handgun licenses are responsible marijuana users.

He said the state statute doesn't prevent the U.S. Attorney General's 
Office from prosecuting illegal marijuana users under federal laws. 
However, he said, the federal government also gives a state latitude 
in passing its own laws regarding concealed weapons. States such as 
Arizona, for example, don't require concealed weapons permits, he noted.

"It's so bizarre to me to try to understand what the sheriff's 
concern is here," said Berger.

Justices probed the question of whether the state statute conflicts 
with federal law.

"On what basis would we go behind what Congress said?" Justice Thomas 
Balmer said.

Justice Martha Walters said, "It goes against what the federal law 
says." Berger said the federal law was intended for drug abusers and 
addicts, not medical marijuana patients.

Justices followed other legal avenues in their questioning.

They noted that in Oregon, it's illegal to conceal a weapon without 
first obtaining a license, just as it's illegal to possess marijuana 
unless a person obtains a medical marijuana card.

Both the concealed weapons permit and the medical marijuana card 
allow a person to do something that would otherwise be illegal.

Justice Rives Kistler wondered, "Why is the license to carry a 
concealed weapon not like the medical marijuana act?" 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake