Editor's note: This story was originally published April 3. We're bringing it back today in honor of Veterans Day (observed).
BALTIMORE (CIRCA) - Some Second Amendment advocates across the country are finding themselves at the epicenter of yet another battle.
Surrender your weapons, or give up your medical marijuana card.
"People are just not getting the fact that they’re basically disqualifying themselves from their gun rights," said Mark Pennak, the president of Maryland Shall Issue and a former Justice Department lawyer. "That’s the problem with so many gun laws, is that they’re traps for the unwary.”
Under the Controlled Substances Act, the federal government identifies marijuana as a "Schedule I Drug," meaning it has "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," according to the Drug Enforcement Agency.
That inadvertently prohibits people with medical marijuana cards from purchasing or possessing a firearm under the Federal Gun Control Law of 1968.
"An illegal user, or unlawful user as they use it in a statutory term, is a prohibited person if he is an illegal user of a controlled substance. That means they are subject to imprisonment for up to 10 years in federal prison for having firearms and being an illegal user of marijuana."
So, even though the legalization of the recreational and medical use of marijuana remains a state's issue, federal law supersedes all jurisdiction. That means people -- even those who have legally obtained a medical marijuana card in a state THAT has already passed legislation in favor of cannabis -- are still treading dangerous water.
It's affecting people like Eryck Stamper, a retired senior chief petty officer-turned-marijuana activist with Maryland NORML. Spending more than 20 years in the service left him 75 percent disabled. He says his Maryland medical marijuana card helps ease his physical and mental ailments. More importantly, he added, it allows him to offset some of the pain without relying on the powerful opiates frequently prescribed to veterans.
For him, taking opiates was opening "Pandora's Box."
He continued, "I see addiction every day. I know what it does to friends and I know what it does to family. I know my personality, I'd probably be dead by now."
But as much as his marijuana helps him, Stamper isn't about to surrender his guns. In fact, since he sat down with Circa for an interview, Stamper has applied for another handgun in Maryland, but it didn't go according to plan.
"An investigation of your Application to Purchase a Regulated Firearm has revealed that it should be disapproved," the letter he received in early March stated. "Accordingly, the seller/transferor has been notified that a transfer of a regulated firearm may not be completed at this time."
Stamper never received a reason for his rejected application, "due to the confidential nature of the information involved." He did, however, appeal the decision with the Maryland State Police. That decision is still ongoing.
Part of the overall problem, Stamper says, is that cannabis tends to get a bad rep.
“The weapon I have now, I bought it for my son to go skeet shooting together," he continued. "Really? You’re going to fault me for having a medical marijuana card to go skeet shooting? I don’t think you have that problem with the opiates or all the other mind-altering drugs that are approved. Why does it have to be different with cannabis?”
The conflict between marijuana and guns is playing out thousands of miles away from Maryland as well. In November, the Honolulu Police Department sent dozens of letters to gun owners who have medical marijuana cards ordering that they surrender their weapons within 30 days. But after some public backlash, the department eventually rescinded the demands, saying that everyone could keep their guns, for now at least.
“This is a new area of concern for cities across the country, and we in Honolulu want to develop a policy that’s legally sound and serves our community,” Honolulu Police Department Chief Susan Ballard said in a later news release. “Formulating the policy will take time, but we want to do it right.”
For Stamper, who spent most of his life in a culture that esteems law and obedience, it's about more than just guns and marijuana policy. It's about the country listening to a solution that veterans say is helping them heal.
“It’s about individual rights," he said. "When the government tells me I can’t do something that I know helps me and has some benefit to me, it doesn’t resonate so well. So, that’s why I take that terminology, it’s a battle. Not a battle physically, but a battle of intelligence, wit, a battle of education and understanding.”
That battle is why Stamper says he chose to dedicate his life after the military to helping other vulnerable veterans get access to the treatment, because for him, it was a matter of life and death.
"Life is hell for me," he emotionally explained. "I'd probably go back to drinking or even some other type of drug to excess. So, cannabis is my savior, to be honest."
Keep up with Circa's other marijuana coverage: