On Dec. 6, 2017, Chief Susan Ballard of the Honolulu Police Department acknowledged that the department’s policy demanding medical marijuana patients surrender their guns was faulty.
“It is not illegal to possess the ones you already have,” Ballard said, as reported by Star Advertiser. “Merely having a medical marijuana card doesn’t mean you’re using marijuana. We can’t prove you’re using marijuana. Our practice of having them turn in their firearms was incorrect.”
While the police department will no longer require that patients turn in previously owned guns, it will still reject newly submitted gun permits for medical marijuana patients.
Ballard’s clarification regarding medical marijuana patients and gun ownership stems from a letter the Honolulu Police Department sent out to approximately 30 gun owners last week, informing them that they had 30 days to transfer ownership of their guns or relinquish their firearms to the department.
The policy sparked criticism from the community and considering only two patients voluntarily brought in their firearms, which will now be returned, the police department revised its stance.
Even so, the revised stance still perplexed some. Retired Supreme Court Justice Steven Levinson, a member of the Police Commission, was confused as to why Ballard and her department were only rejecting new gun permits for medical marijuana patients and not those who were prescribed heavier drugs like opioids.
“I’m a little puzzled as to why the distinction between medical marijuana and medical opioids,” Levinson said.
Ballard stumbled to find an answer for Levinson’s question.
“I really can’t answer that question,” she said. “The main thing is … what federal law is telling us.”
Under federal law, marijuana is categorized as a controlled substance, with the law banning illegal users of controlled substances from owning guns.
“On behalf of physicians, nurses, caregivers and patients involved in the medical cannabis program, the assumption that they’re all impaired or a danger to society is a great insult,” said Carl Bergquist, executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii. “A policy like this could push people out of the regulated system. We think these patients should not be stigmatized in this fashion.”
The department will continue to review its policy regarding the issue.