Court: Medical pot user can have handgun permit

The Oregon Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court Wednesday that Sheriff Mike Winters' denial of a concealed handgun license to a medical marijuana cardholder wasn't supported by law.

Upholding an earlier decision by Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Mark Schiveley, the ruling said Winters did not have grounds to deny Cynthia Willis' permit in 2008. Winters had argued that the federal Gun Control Act of 1968 was the legal basis of his decision.

In its ruling, the Court of Appeals found that Willis complied with state law in her application, and disputed Winters' federal arguments.

"In sum, we are not persuaded that the Sheriff is being forced to violate —or even potentially violate — any federal law by issuing a concealed handgun license pursuant to Oregon's concealed handgun licensing statutes," the court ruled.

Portland attorney Leland Berger, who represents Willis and three others in the state who have also been denied concealed handgun permits, said the decision is a victory for marijuana cardholders throughout the state.

"It means the sheriffs in Oregon will no longer be able to discriminate against patients," Berger said.

"It's time for the sheriff (Winters) to stop wasting the taxpayer's money and stop litigating this issue."

He said the handgun permit denial by Winters and other sheriffs is a result of their opposition to the medical marijuana law, rather than over any real issue with the weapons permit.

Winters said he hadn't reviewed the court ruling yet and would need to review it with his attorney before he could make any comments.

Benjamin Bloom, Winters' attorney, said he couldn't comment on the case or whether the decision would be appealed until after he discussed it with Winters.

Willis, 53, volunteers with Patient Services, a nonprofit that helps people maneuver through the process of obtaining a medical marijuana card.

She said she welcomed the ruling for herself and other cardholders. "I'm so happy that we're starting to get some equality, and it will move the state forward as a whole," she said.

While the ruling went against Winters, Willis said she supports the sheriff.

"He and his department were doing their job by protecting me from some consequences on a federal level," she said.

At the time she applied for the concealed handgun license, Willis said, she had been a medical marijuana user for four years to alleviate severe muscle spasms.

In a similar local case, medical marijuana card holder Lori Duckworth, executive director of Southern Oregon NORML, has also challenged Winters in court after he denied her application for a concealed handgun permit.

Circuit Court Judge Ron Grensky on June 8 denied the application and supported Winters' legal arguments, putting Grensky's ruling at odds with those of Schively and the Court of Appeals, according to Duckworth's attorney, Mark Haneberg.

Haneberg said he would file a motion in Grensky's court asking him reconsider his earlier ruling in light of the Court of Appeals' judgment.

"I'm filing a motion to reconsider so Judge Grensky can eat a little crow," Haneberg said. However, he noted that different judges often come up with different rulings, and lawyers often have legal opinions that don't hold up in the courts.

"I've eaten a little crow myself," he said.

In the Court of Appeals ruling, the court found that Willis satisfied all the requirements of the state law under Oregon Revised Statute 166.291.

According to the ruling, Winters conceded that Willis fulfilled the state requirements that would make her eligible for a handgun license, but Winters stated federal law prevented him from issuing the handgun license.

The Court of Appeals cited a paragraph in the Gun Control Act that specifically gives states the right to pass their own laws regarding gun ownership.

Also, the court said, the sheriff's arguments did not convince the appellate judges that it is impossible to comply with both the state law and the federal act.

"In sum, the circuit court correctly concluded that Oregon's concealed handgun licensing statutes are not preempted by the federal Gun Control Act," the court determined.

The court noted that Oregon's law gives someone a license for an action — carrying a concealed weapon — that would otherwise be illegal.

Likewise, the medical marijuana act allows someone to do something that would otherwise be illegal in Oregon, the court said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or

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