- Associated Press - Monday, April 4, 2011

WHITE CITY, Ore. | Cynthia Willis calls up and down the firing range to be sure everyone knows she is shooting, squares up in a two-handed stance with her Walther P-22 automatic pistol and fires off a clip in rapid succession.

Ms. Willis is not packing not only a concealed-handgun permit in her wallet; she also has a medical marijuana card. That combination has led the local sheriff to try to take away her gun permit.

She is part of what is considered the first major court case in the country to consider whether guns and marijuana can legally mix. The sheriffs of Washington and Jackson counties say no. But Ms. Willis and three co-plaintiffs have won in state court twice, with the state’s rights to regulate concealed weapons trumping federal gun control law in each decision.

With briefs filed and arguments made, they are now waiting for the Oregon Supreme Court to rule.

When it’s over, the diminutive 54-year-old plans to still be eating marijuana cookies to deal with her arthritis pain and muscle spasms, and carrying her pistol.

Cynthia Willis visits a firing range in White City, Ore. She is suing the Jackson County sheriff over the denial of a concealed-handgun permit after acknowledging that she uses marijuana to treat arthritis and muscle spasms. (Associated Press)
Cynthia Willis visits a firing range in White City, Ore. She is ... more >

“Under the medical marijuana law, I am supposed to be treated as any other citizen in this state,” she said. “If people don’t stand up for their little rights, all their big rights will be gone.”

A retired school bus driver, Ms. Willis volunteers at a Medford smoke shop that helps patients find growers of medical marijuana, and teaches how to get the most medical benefit out of the 1½ pounds of pot that card carriers are allowed to possess. She said her marijuana oils, cookies and joints should be treated no differently from any other prescribed medicines. She said she doesn’t use marijuana when she plans to drive or carry her gun.

“That’s as stupid as mixing alcohol and weapons,” she said.

Oregon sheriffs are not happy about the state’s medical marijuana law.

“The whole medical marijuana issue is a concern to sheriffs across the country who are involved in it mainly because there is so much potential for abuse or for misuse and as a cover for organized criminal activity,” said Washington County Sheriff Rob Gordon, who became part of the Willis case because his office turned down three medical marijuana patients in the Portland suburbs for concealed-handgun permits.

“You can’t argue that people aren’t misusing that statute in Oregon. Not everybody, of course. Some have real medical reasons. But … the larger group happens to be people who are very clearly abusing it,” the sheriff said.

While Oregon has long been a leader in the medical-marijuana movement, it also is one of 37 states where the sheriff has to give a concealed-handgun permit to anyone meeting the list of varying state criteria. They generally require people to be 21, be a U.S. citizen, pass a gun safety course, and have no criminal record or history of mental illness, drug or alcohol abuse, or domestic violence.

The sheriffs argue that the 1968 U.S. Gun Control Act prohibits selling firearms to drug addicts, and they say that includes cardholders for medical marijuana. Their briefs state that they cannot give a permit to carry a gun to someone prohibited from buying or owning a gun.

But the cardholders have won so far by arguing that this is one situation where federal law does not trump state law, because the concealed-handgun license just gives people legal defense if they are arrested.

Oregon’s attorney general has sided with the marijuana card holders by arguing that the concealed-handgun license cannot be used to buy a gun, so sheriffs who issue one to a cardholder for marijuana are not in violation of the federal law.