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Supreme Court rejects pistols-and-pot case

MEDFORD, Ore. — The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from an Oregon sheriff who had been rebuffed in his effort to deny a concealed handgun license to a medical marijuana user.

The high court’s decision means Cynthia Willis, of Gold Hill, and other marijuana cardholders and can keep both their pistols and their pot.

Willis, 54, said her case has been a victory for medical marijuana users throughout Oregon.

“Just because we’re patients doesn’t mean we don’t have real lifestyles and rights like everyone else,” she told the Medford Mail Tribune.

The legal wrangling began in 2008, when Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters refused to issue a concealed handgun license to Willis because she uses medical marijuana. The sheriff argued that the federal government recognizes marijuana as a controlled substance, so federal gun laws prohibited him from issuing a license to Willis.

Willis took the case to court and was issued a license after prevailing in the state appeals court, which said the state’s concealed weapons law doesn’t pre-empt federal gun possession laws. The Court of Appeals reasoned that the concealed weapons permit by itself doesn’t authorize a person to actually possess a handgun.

The Oregon Supreme Court upheld that decision last year, and Winters appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in July.

The justices also declined a similar case from Washington County.

Portland attorney Leland Berger, who was part of a team of lawyers representing Willis, said the Supreme Court’s refusal to intervene should send a message to Winters and others in law enforcement to respect the rights of medical marijuana patients.

“The problem is the sheriffs hate the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act,” said Berger. “They find ways to discriminate against patients.”

Ryan Kirchoff, a lawyer for Jackson County, denied that the sheriff was discriminating against medical marijuana patients. He said county officials are disappointed that the case didn’t move forward, but he noted that the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear it doesn’t necessarily mean the justices agree with the lower court’s ruling.

The sheriff has said he believes federal law clearly states that using marijuana bars a person from acquiring or possessing firearms, even if the drug is used for medicinal purposes and is legal under state law.

“The sheriff feels that at this point he’s done everything that had to be done to rectify the problem,” Kirchoff said. “There is nothing further that can be done to resolve this particular issue until state law is changed or there is further direction from the Supreme Court.”

Oregon’s law does appear conflicted: A concealed handgun license can be issued to a medical marijuana patient who is deemed a law-abiding citizen, but state law doesn’t allow the sale of a weapon or ammunition to a medical marijuana patient.

Willis said she obtained her Walther P22 pistol before she became a medical marijuana patient.