Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oregon Medical Marijuana and Gun Crimes -- Part I

In May of Last year, as I posted about previously, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that Oregonians who have a medical marijuana permit may be issued a conceal carry license (CCL) as well.  Then, in January of this year, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, allowing that ruling to stand (but also allowing a gray area to remain, since both medical marijuana and gun possession by addicts is still illegal at a federal level; A provision of the 1968 Gun Control Act prohibits drug addicts from possessing or receiving a firearm (18 U.S.C. 922 (g)(3))). 

The Oregon Court of Appeals ruling stands against common sense, given the altered state of mind that marijuana leads to, the danger of a gun in that state, and the fact that there isn't a law (as far as I've been able to ascertain) against being high and carrying a loaded weapon at home or in public (with a CCL).

As stated in one article:

"Any person who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of whether or not his or her state has passed legislation authorizing marijuana use for medicinal purposes, is an unlawful user of or is addicted to a controlled substance and is prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition," Herbert wrote.

While medical marijuana supporters have expressed outrage, groups that can usually be counted on to stand up for Second Amendment rights have been largely silent. Although the National Shooting Sports Foundation was the first place outside ATF to post the open letter, it has not responded to repeated Chronicle requests to comment on the Second Amendment rights of medical marijuana users. Neither has the National Rifle Association.

Advocates of medical marijuana insist that they are law-abiding citizens just interested in easing their pain.  I don't doubt it.  Most likely the majority of Oregon's 40,000 medical marijuana permit holders fit that description.  Oregon Sheriffs don't agree.  

"This whole medical marijuana thing is a farce, and you can quote me on that," said Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin, president of the Oregon State Sheriff's Assn., who believes only a fraction of the state's nearly 40,000 registered medical marijuana users have a legitimate need for the drug.

"I always ask them, 'How many times a day do you medicate?' They say it's like four or five times a day," Bergin said. "Well, that's 16 hours a day you're running around stoned. Do we even want them behind vehicles? No. Do we want them carrying around a gun? Absolutely no."

Police forces across Oregon are highly critical of Oregon's medical marijuana law:

[The law is] a system that allows designated growers to legally cultivate hundreds of pounds of marijuana, and it gives so-called "caretakers" cover to move marijuana through the state, critics said. Defenders of the existing law say their legitimate medication is under attack, and the proposed changes would go too far.

The law is so useful to drug traffickers that they'd be "foolish" not to use it, said Detective H. Ray Myers, a Grants Pass police officer who works on the Rogue Area Drug Enforcement Team. Myers said the vast majority of his cases involve medical marijuana cardholders.

"It is easy for them to hide behind it," Myers said. "It makes it difficult for us to investigate."
Critics say the professional growers can cultivate massive marijuana plants that are each capable of producing dozens of pounds of pot. That creates a significant excess beyond the 1½ pounds a patient is eligible to possess, and some growers sell their surplus on the black market. Designated "caregivers" are allowed to possess the marijuana designated for patients in their care, so becoming a caregiver for 10 patients would give someone cover to transport 15 pounds of marijuana.

HERE is one such example of a medical marijuana permit holder who abused the system (and, of course, had a loaded gun in his possession).  HERE is a recent case, an Oregon man illegally transporting three pounds of pot through Idaho, and ANOTHER recent case like that one, but with five pounds.

HERE is another case of one of those "caregivers" abusing the system.  They had 100 plants and nearly four pounds of processed pot.  Of course, they were also armed, with a 12-guage shotgun and 9mm semi-auto pistol.

So if there are so many cases of abuse, and our law enforcement has concerns, shouldn't we trust the opinion of those who are in charge of protecting public safety?  Shouldn't their concern about the need for stricter regulation and the prevention of arming these people be listened to?

Don't get me wrong; I support medical marijuana.  I voted to allow medical marijuana here, and truly believe it eases suffering.  I wish my grandmother could try it.  People are moving to Oregon just for the medical marijuana, and are seeking Oregon medical marijuana permits even when living out of state.  But while there are benefits of marijuana for patients, it comes with risks. 

One of those risks is that, when mixed with guns, the altered state of mind while high makes choices with guns a potentially deadly combination, just as with alcohol, some legal drugs, or many illegal drugs.  Reasonable restrictions need to be put in place to reduce cases of abuse of the law and dangerous activities.

"Just because we're patients doesn't mean we don't have real lifestyles and rights like everyone else," said the medical marijuana user who successfully sued to have her conceal carry permit.  True, but it also means that there's no guarantee you won't shoot an innocent person while high.  All rights have restrictions, since the welfare of the people is of highest importance.  This is no different.

Pro-gun advocates would like you to think that drug-related shootings are only back-alley deals gone wrong, by gang bangers and illegal dealers.  Most are, around the nation, like THIS one or THIS one.  HERE is a recent local case if ID thieves who were armed with a stolen gun and had illegal marijuana and other drugs. HERE is a local case from last year where five men who had a clandestine illegal marijuana crop kidnapped an innocent man at gunpoint and planned to kill him because they thought he had harvested their crop (turns out one of the five kidnappers had secretly done it).  But a large number of cases around here don't fit the gun advocates' model. 

Here's a case from just a couple days ago which doesn't fit that "shady drug deal" model, in Springfield.  A 26-year old man was high on marijuana and decided to twirl his .357 revolver.  The gun went off, tearing through his left thigh and lodging the bullet in the floor.  He had a 3 year old and 5 year old in the apartment with him.  Luckily, neither child was harmed, nor the three people in the apartment below.  Prior to that point, I'm sure this previously law-abiding man would have argued that there was no problem with having a gun while high, or having a gun around children.

And HERE is a case where a medical marijuana user was shot in the leg when someone broke into his apartment, trying to steal his pot.  He was a target because of his prescription.

Being a medical marijuana card holder doesn't keep you out of trouble.  It doesn't give you more common sense.  And for some, it increases the chance of abuse.  Smoking weed impairs your judgment, and when you have a medical marijuana card, it can also make you a target for addicts. Mix guns in with this, and you have a recipe for tragedy.

But what about legal growers?  For card holders, shouldn't they be the most law-abiding and safe of all card holders?  According to one article, 24,000 of Oregon's 38,000 medical marijuana card holders are growers of marijuana.  Are the growers any less likely to commit gun crimes or be attacked by shooters? 

As you'll see in Part II of this posting, this isn't the case...