Court: Medical marijuana patient can have concealed handgun license

The Oregon Supreme Court has shot down Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters' refusal to issue concealed handgun licenses to law-abiding residents who are medical marijuana patients.

Cynthia Willis, a 54-year-old Gold Hill resident who has a medical marijuana card, celebrated her victory by taking aim at targets at the Sports Park gun range in White City.

"It's awesome for the state and the country that we are going to be treated equally," Willis said. "It was nice to have that affirmation."

Ryan Kirchoff, attorney for Jackson County, said the county will weigh its legal options and study Thursday's court ruling before deciding its next move.

"The county will consider appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court very soon," he said.

Winters initially denied Willis a concealed handgun license in 2008, citing the U.S. Gun Control Act of 1968, which prohibits anyone who uses or is addicted to a controlled substance from having a firearm.

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.

The Supreme Court didn't agree with any of the legal theories Winters proposed.

Sheriff Bob Gordon of Washington County had a similar case that was combined with Winters'. Gordon had denied licenses to three medical marijuana patients.

"We hold that the Federal Gun Control Act does not preempt the state's concealed handgun licensing statute and, therefore, the sheriffs must issue (or renew) the requested licenses," the court ruled.

Willis so far has won every legal battle against Winters, with the Jackson County Circuit Court and the Oregon Court of Appeals siding with her last year. After losing the Court of Appeals case, Winters granted Willis a concealed handgun license while he pursued the appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Attorney General John Kroger and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon also sided with Willis.

Willis volunteers with Patient Services, a nonprofit group that helps people obtain medical marijuana cards.

She said her license has nothing to do with protecting her cannabis.

"I travel alone, and I want to be safe," Willis said.

Kirchoff, in a prepared statement, said the Oregon Supreme Court accepts only 5 to 7 percent of cases for review, indicating that the court found the case presented a legitimate and particularly difficult constitutional issue.

He said the county disagrees with the ruling, particularly the court's opinion that Oregon law regarding handguns is not in conflict with the Gun Control Act.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court said the Gun Control Act specifically renounces any congressional intent to preempt state law unless it is in "direct and positive" conflict with the federal act.

Winters, who was reportedly ill, was unavailable for comment Thursday.

The sheriff discovered that Willis is a medical marijuana patient when she filled out the application for a concealed handgun license. In addition to the questions required to satisfy Oregon law, Winters added his own questions, such as whether the applicant used medical marijuana.

Willis' attorney Leland Berger said, "There isn't any reason to ask any applicant if they use medical marijuana or otherwise. They should just knock it off."

Berger said he's hopeful Jackson County will reach the same conclusion as Washington County and not appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"It would be a waste of taxpayer resources," he said.

Berger said states have considerable latitude in devising their own laws, pointing out that Oregon has developed a way to allow the medical use of marijuana even though federal law considers it a controlled substance.

"The fact is the federal government cannot commandeer the states," he said.

Oregon has almost 40,000 medical marijuana patients, and Jackson County has more than 5,100, second most in the state after Polk County, which has almost 6,800, according to state public health statistics.

While Willis practiced with her Walther P22 handgun Thursday, Greg Martin, a 35-year-old Central Point man, reflected on the Supreme Court ruling while taking time out from target practicing.

He said he didn't see any difference between someone with a prescription for Vicodin or someone with a medical marijuana card having a concealed handgun license.

"It's OK for someone taking pain pills to shoot out here, so why not medical marijuana?" he said.

Martin said he has friends with medical marijuana cards who would like a concealed handgun license, so he applauded the Supreme Court ruling.

"I think it's wonderful," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email

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