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Illinois medical marijuana patients erroneously told to give up guns

CHICAGO — Nearly two years after Illinois decided medical marijuana users shouldn’t be prohibited from owning guns, several patients received letters from state police telling them their firearms cards were being revoked.

Although the agency insists the letters were sent to just four people before the mistake was corrected, some cannabis supporters say the error signifies an underlying ambivalence about medical marijuana in the 23 states where it’s now legal.

For example, a checklist for firearm owners on the Illinois State Police website includes this requirement: “I am not a medical marijuana patient registry card holder.” That, too, was an error that a vendor is now working to remove from the site, ISP spokesman Matt Boerwinkle said.

But Tyler Anthony, a Chicago attorney with the Canna Law Group, said he’s skeptical the prohibiting language was added inadvertently.

“The opposite is probably true,” Anthony said. “Even taking their word for it, they shouldn’t be careless with citizens’ constitutional rights, especially when their position lacks any clear legal basis.”

Guns and marijuana caused a stir two years ago when Illinois started its medical cannabis pilot program and, in draft rules, told future patients they couldn’t keep their firearms. Irate gun owners complained and got the language removed.

Joshua Gillan said it came as quite a shock when he received a letter last week from state police ordering him to surrender his firearm owner’s ID card because he was an unlawful user of a controlled substance.

“The very first thing I said was: ‘From my cold, dead hands,'” said Gillan, 31, of Rockford, quoting a gun-rights slogan.

The father of three said he uses the drug to relax since suffering a traumatic brain injury when a roadside bomb went off during an Army tour in Iraq.

Boerwinkle said the patients’ FOID cards are still active and that state police are “working to ensure that future issues associated with these card holders are addressed.”

But Gillan lost a gun in the Illinois confusion, he said, and until late Wednesday his status still said “DENIED” on an ISP website used by consumers to check FOIDs before private gun sales. The link is now disabled with an error message that says “temporarily unavailable.”

The recent confusion likely stems from a clash between state and federal views on the issue.

Like in other states, Illinois’ law doesn’t address gun ownership among medical marijuana patients or their caregivers, said Karmen Hanson, medical marijuana policy expert for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But it does include a general protection of patients’ rights, said Chris Lindsey, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project.

“Illinois’s law is clear that it protects medical marijuana patients from being denied any right or privilege, and this is certainly one of those areas we believe state lawmakers intended to protect,” Lindsey said.

On the federal side, in 2011, an open letter from the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives spelled out to firearms dealers that medical marijuana users are prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms and ammunition.

In Colorado, a 2015 campaign to allow marijuana users to apply for concealed carry permits failed to garner enough signatures to make the ballot.

And, in Oregon, the issue landed in the courts when sheriffs in two counties withheld concealed handgun licenses from medical marijuana users. The Oregon Supreme Court ordered the sheriffs to allow the gun licenses. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal, a decision hailed as a victory for gun owners and medical marijuana users.

As for Gillan, a gun dealer wouldn’t return to him a pistol he’d left at the shop pending a trade because his FOID card status was in question, he said.

“I don’t believe the state can produce a document that supersedes the Constitution that I fought for with my bloody hands,” Gillan said.


Follow AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson on Twitter: @CarlaKJohnson