MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) — Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters faces a showdown at the Oregon Supreme Court on March 3 with a local medical marijuana patient who was denied a concealed handgun permit.
The patient, Cynthia Willis, has allies in her fight for the permit, including Attorney General John Kroger and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon.
But the county's attorney says the sheriff has federal law on his side.
The state Supreme Court will hear Willis' case, which has been combined with a similar case in Washington County, at the Willamette University College of Law in Salem at 10:30 a.m., March 3.
Winters denied Willis' gun permit in 2008, arguing that granting the permit would violate federal laws prohibiting drug users from legally possessing guns.
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.
Willis volunteers with Patient Services, a nonprofit group that helps people obtain medical marijuana cards.
The decision by the state Supreme Court to hear the case is significant since the court takes only about 8 percent of cases appealed from the lower court.
Leland Berger, Willis' attorney who has been a legal advocate for medical marijuana patients, said the sheriff has been attempting to discriminate against those patients by not issuing the permits.
But in a brief filed with the Supreme Court, Ryan Kirchoff, assistant county counsel, argued that Winters denied the application for the permit because marijuana use violates federal law.
The U.S. Gun Control Act of 1968 specifically forbids anyone who uses or is addicted to a controlled substance from having a firearm. Willis admitted to using medical marijuana when she filed her application with the sheriff for a concealed weapons permit.
Kirchoff argues in the brief that the Oregon Court of Appeals ruling would force the sheriff to issue a concealed weapons permit to a person who admits to using methamphetamine.
He stated that when there is a conflict between federal and state laws, federal law should prevail.
Upholding an earlier ruling by Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Mark Schiveley, the appeals court in June concluded the sheriff would not violate the federal Gun Control Act by issuing a handgun permit to Willis based on Oregon's concealed handgun licensing laws. The federal act gives states the authority to set their own rules for gun ownership, the court determined.
The Court of Appeals reasoned that the concealed weapons permit by itself, doesn't authorize a person, even one who uses a controlled substance, to actually possess a handgun.
The court noted that Oregon's permit law provides a license to conceal a weapon, an action that would be illegal without the permit.
Likewise, the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act allows someone to do something that would otherwise be illegal in Oregon, the court found.
A brief filed with the Supreme Court by Attorney General Kroger stated, "There is no basis to believe that possession of a concealed handgun license will result in a violation of federal firearms laws."
The ACLU argues that 39 states have their own laws regulating the permitting of firearms.
According to the ACLU reading of Oregon Revised Statute 166.29, the sheriff is compelled to issue the concealed handgun license to Willis because she complied with all the requirements of the statute.
"The sheriff wants this court's authorization for him to go beyond the statutory requirements and make his own determination as to whether the person is qualified under federal law to own a handgun," the ACLU wrote.
Neither Willis nor Winters returned phone calls requesting comment on the case.
Information from: Mail Tribune, http://www.mailtribune.com/