Pubdate: Wed, 27 Jul 2011
Source: Mail Tribune, The (Medford, OR)
Copyright: 2011 The Mail Tribune
Author: Damian Mann, Mail Tribune


Sheriff Mike Winters' Opposition to a Gold Hill Medical Marijuana
Patient's Concealed Handgun License Is on Its Way to the U.S. High

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court
Tuesday in his latest bid to block the issuance of a concealed handgun
license to a Gold Hill medical marijuana patient.

Winters has asserted that he can't issue the license because it would
violate federal law, specifically the Gun Control Act of 1968.

The sheriff's legal argument has been shot down by the Jackson County
Circuit Court, the Oregon Court of Appeals and the Oregon Supreme
Court. The courts ruled the state statute governing concealed handgun
licenses doesn't pre-empt federal law.

"I was hoping that it was over, but apparently it is not," said
Cynthia Willis, the medical marijuana patient who now has a concealed
handgun license after the sheriff lost in the Court of Appeals. "I'm
just so surprised that there would be a further use of tax dollars in
this way."

So far, Winters' case has cost the county $13,000 in outside legal
fees plus the equivalent of $20,000 in hours spent by the county's
internal legal team.

Willis, who uses cannabis for muscle spasms and arthritis pain,
admitted to using medical marijuana when she filed her application
with the sheriff for a concealed handgun license in 2008.

The Oregon Supreme Court determined that under the rules of Oregon
Revised Statute 166.291, Willis, who has a clean criminal record,
should receive a concealed handgun license.

Washington County, which lost a similar concealed handgun and medical
marijuana case, also has decided to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Jackson County petition filed with the high court by the county's
attorney, Ryan Kirchoff, makes a point of pressing for clarity in
resolving conflicting laws.

"As this case demonstrates, the mounting constitutional and political
tension between the states and the federal government over medical
marijuana has expanded into the intersection of federal and state
firearms regulation," the petition states.

State law versus federal law is an issue that the U.S. Supreme Court
frequently debates, but the likelihood a case will actually be taken
under review is slim.

Of the 10,000 cases sent to the U.S. Supreme Court in a given year,
only about 200 are heard.

For instance, officials in San Diego and San Bernardino counties had
refused to issue medical marijuana cards, maintaining that
California's medical marijuana law would be a violation of federal
law, specifically the 1970 Controlled Substances Act.

In 2009, the Supreme Court refused to hear to the case.

Kirchoff said there are different legal issues at play in the Winters
versus Willis case that could warrant the court's attention.

The Gun Control Act is designed to keep guns out of the hands of
people Congress considered potentially dangerous or irresponsible,
such as those who use a controlled substance, he said. Since marijuana
is a controlled substance, gun ownership would be barred under the Gun
Control Act, he said.

The sheriff's petition to the U.S. Supreme Court states the Oregon
Supreme Court argued that federal and state laws serve different
purposes. The petition criticizes the Oregon court for skirting the
issue of the conflict between federal and state laws.

Leland Berger, who represents Willis, said judges in three different
court systems have looked at this case and they've all come to the
same conclusion.

"How many judges do we need to rule on this?" he said.

Berger said sheriffs, district attorneys and employment lawyers have
so far expressed the most opposition to Oregon's medical marijuana

"It's unfortunate that their cases are based on prejudice, fear and
ignorance," Berger said.

States have a great deal of latitude under the U.S. Constitution to
devise their own laws and regulations, he said.

"It's none of the federal government's business how Oregon chooses to
regulate its criminal law," he said. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.