With Ohio’s medical marijuana law ramping up, some residents are about to discover that packing heat and packing a bong don’t mix.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office reported this month that the state issued a record 168,302 concealed-carry licenses in 2018 — about 99,000 renewals and 69,000 new licenses.

But those licenses were issued before the state’s marijuana program caught fire. In mid-December, physicians had made 3,460 recommendations to allow Ohio patients to use medical marijuana. By the end of February, 22,276 medical marijuana recommendations had been made.

Like oil and water, a concealed-carry license and a medical marijuana card don’t blend together, says Dean Rieck, executive director of the Buckeye Firearms Association, a statewide gun rights advocacy group.

“We estimate there are 4 million gun owners in Ohio in some form,” Rieck said. “And some of those are probably going to use medical marijuana.”

Federal law makes no provision for the use of marijuana for medical reasons, Rieck said. In fact, it is still considered a Schedule 1 substance by the U.S. government — one without an accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

In fact, the federal form for firearms purchases and sales asks, "Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug or any other controlled substance?" 

The form warns, "The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medical or recreational purposes in the state where you reside."

The state concealed-carry license application form also asks applicants whether they are an "unlawful user" of marijuana or other drugs as defined under federal law.

So straight-shooting Ohioans who want to renew or acquire a concealed-carry license will have to decide between the two.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand federal law and state law can conflict,” Rieck said. With about 667,000 concealed-carry license holders in the state and the rapid expansion of the state marijuana registry, there’s going to be overlap. When that happens, Rieck said, “You have to choose between guns and marijuana.”

Dave Conner, head firearms instructor for Defensive Training Concepts, said that gun owners in Colorado, where marijuana is legalized, have already had to wrestle with the issue. Conner, who is a SWAT team medic and weapons instructor, said he's had individuals bring up the issue while in a classroom environment.

Conner and his company provide training at the Armory and Indoor Range in Canal Fulton.

"I have had people ask me … if having a medical marijuana card or a prescription for marijuana would cause them problems," he said. "I've even had some ask if they were under the influence of marijuana in a self-defense case … could that come up in an investigation."

Conner's advice: Just say no to handling weapons while under the influence.

"Any substance that could impair your judgment could cause an issue or come into play [in a legal sense]," he said.

Buckeye Firearms supports the idea of “constitutional carry,” which allows any legal gun owner to conceal-carry without a permit or license. Several states have adopted the approach and haven’t had significant issues arising from it, Rieck said.

Unless Ohio decides to go in that direction, concealed-carry applicants who are seeking pain relief from medical marijuana are in a quandary.

Portage County Sheriff David W. Doak says his office is warning applicants ahead of time that they need not apply if they’re using medical marijuana — even if it’s sanctioned under state law.

“We are telling people if they apply, if you have a medical marijuana card, we are not going to allow you to have a [concealed-carry license],” Doak said. “There’s a number of people who already have permits … who aren’t thinking about it. The fact is that it is still a federal violation.”

According to the state attorney general’s concealed-carry report, Doak’s office renewed or issued 1,992 licenses last year. The sheriff is troubled by the fact that some otherwise law-abiding citizens will face the gun-pot dilemma, but his office has no option.

“We can’t bend the law,” Doak said. “We don’t want to see you get jammed with that.”

 

Staff writer Alan Ashworth can be reached at 330-996-3859 or aashworth@thebeaconjournal.com.