On July 6th, 2016 at around 9:00 pm a 32-year old man named Philando Castile had just finished puffing on some herb while running errands around Falcon Heights, Minnesota with his lady when he was pulled over for the 53rd time in his life, this time by officers from the St. Anthony Police Department.
Police records show that Castile, a black man, had been racially profiled by a traffic officer who radioed a nearby squad car claiming that Castile and his girlfriend matched the description of suspects in a recent robbery, stating, “The two occupants just look like people that were involved in a robbery. The driver looks more like one of our suspects, just because of the wide-set nose. I couldn’t get a good look at the passenger.”
Got it? The two occupants “look like” suspects but he only saw the driver’s nose and didn’t get a good look at the passenger.
Once he was pulled over, Castile complied with instructions from officer Jeronimo Yanez to produce a driver’s license and proof of insurance and informed the officer that he was armed with a legal, permitted, concealed firearm.
The officer panicked at that revelation and immediately began shouting down Castile and the seemingly routine stop ended with Castile dying from five point blank gunshot wounds that he received as he plead for his life.
You might remember his girlfriend live streamed the aftermath to Facebook as Castile lay dying in a pool of his own blood moaning his last words of “I wasn’t reaching for it…”
Also in the car with Castile and his girlfriend was her 4-year old daughter, who witnessed the entire tragic event firsthand.
Officer Yanez knew he was fucked as soon as the smoke cleared and immediately began reaching for an excuse for his barbaric behavior just as brashly as he reached for his gun that night, saying, “As that was happening as he was pulling out his hand I thought, I was gonna die and I thought if he’s, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five-year-old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me. And, I let off the rounds and then after the rounds were off, the little girl was screaming.”
Officer Yanez was charged with three seperate felonies but was acquitted of all three about a year after the incident.
Those charged with defending the actions of Officer Yanez would repeatedly cite the fact that although Castile did have the proper permits to own and carry his firearm, that he had obtained them fraudulently since he must have lied on his ATF application when asked if he uses any federally illegal substances.
It didn’t take long for the focus to shift to the National Rifle Association (NRA), a political lobbying organization tasked with defending the rights of all Americans to own firearms. The NRA is often the first to the microphone when a lawful gun owner has their rights violated by the big, bad government, but the organization remained hauntingly silent after Castile’s wrongful death.
Once they did break their silence, A YEAR LATER, spokesperson Dana Loesch called the incident a “terrible tragedy that could have been avoided” but further clarified her real opinion that “He [Castile] was also in possession of a controlled substance and a firearm simultaneously, which is illegal.”
So, for the record, the organization that fought the Obama administration tooth and nail in 2016 to make sure that no mentally handicapped person would lose their access to gun ownership, regardless of their affliction, argued less than a year later that their hands were tied on weed because the feds said so.
THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
Back in 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Gun Control Act into law. This was the first time that the feds had formed distinct categories and restrictions on exactly who could and could not own guns.
The law was amended to include the 1970 Controlled Substances Act as a guideline for firearms retailers to use to avoid making a prohibited sale to anyone deemed to be a user or an addict of any of the illicit drugs listed in the Act.
As we know, cannabis has unfairly resided at the top of that list, on Schedule I, ever since then as our federal government still expects us to believe that the plant is a danger of some sort to society and has no medicinal value.
These moves made a half a century ago were intended to keep guns out of the hands of drug dealers and addicts but while society has progressed greatly on the topic of cannabis use, our federal government and its laws have not.
Even more recently, the feds have only solidified their stance on the wrong side of history with a 2011 memo from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) which instructed gun sellers and warned cannabis users – in no uncertain terms – that “the use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside.”
ATF Form 4473 must be completed by any hopeful gun owner and it clearly asks if the person filling it out if they are “an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana…”
Remember, Big Brother doesn’t care about your state’s recreational or medical cannabis laws so if you honestly answer yes to that question, you are automatically denied. If you lie, you have violated federal law.
THE SILENCE IS DEAFENING
In 2016, the same year the NRA was trying to whistle past the grave of Philando Castile, the landmark case of Wilson v Lynch made it all the way to the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals.
In the case, a Nevada resident and registered medical marijuana patient named S. Rowan Wilson applied to legally purchase a firearm but was denied once her MMJ registration was discovered. She took her case to one of the highest courts in the land but it was summarily smacked down.
In Wilson’s case, and the cases of other similar attempts to set legal precedence in the favor of both cannabis users and gun owners, the NRA has sat on the sidelines, neglecting to do so much as even file basic amicus briefs to the court as they have done on so many other occasions when cannabis was not involved.
In the meantime, the crossover between cannabis and firearms advocates has come to a head in some states. In Oklahoma, for example, just this week state lawmakers passed a bill that instructs state troopers to refuse to enforce any federally mandated seizure of firearms from the estimated 106,000 legally registered MMJ patients in the state.
But relying on 50 individual states to “do the right thing” is not a realistic solution, and it has never been the modus operandi of the NRA.
For example, after the progressive state of Hawaii passed legislation to allow for a dispensary-driven medical marijuana market, police attempted to enact a mass confiscation of firearms from anyone who dared to register in the MMJ program. Though the attempt eventually went up in smoke, the NRA was once again strangely silent.
Finding an official position from the NRA on what is already a main plank issue in the 2020 presidential election is pretty much impossible.
The closest we have come in quite some time was when the former president of the NRA, David Keene, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Times specifically on the subject on guns and cannabis. Keene, who served in the prominent role up until 2013, did nothing during his tenure to advance the cause of cannabis reform, but to be fair, that was not what he was asked to do.
Now though, he has a lot to say about it.
“Trading a constitutional right for pain relief is a choice no one should have to make,” he says in his opinion piece.
The man now sitting in that powerful chair is Ollie North, of Iran-Contra fame. Infamous for his role in everything from facilitating illegal weapons and arms deals with our enemies, to trafficking ungodly amounts of cocaine into America in the 1980’s in order to fund Central American anti-Communist death squads, North has exactly zero public statements that we could find to help us define his stance on cannabis.
Prominent NRA members have clearly been trained to give a canned response, as we saw from Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida, who enjoys an A+ ranking with the NRA.
He told Cannabis Wire earlier this year that the NRA is “focused on broader reforms” than just guns and cannabis. But this weak reply begs us to forget the countless occasions that the NRA has found the time and energy to clap back at victims of school shootings or perceived gun grabbers at all levels of government. . . until now.
The NRA has lobbied for the rights of blind Americans, who are not even legally allowed to drive, to own a gun.
They’ve fought for folks found on the federal government’s terrorist watch list, asserting their right to amass as large an arsenal as they please.
They’ve stretched the loopholes in background checks to the point where roughly 40% of legally purchased guns are never subjected to the process.
It is estimated that approximately 50 million Americans own at least one gun (Hell, I own two).
Coincidentally, roughly that many Americans admit to having smoked some pot in the past year.
To pretend that these two major political and social phenomena are unrelated is short-sighted but we know that the NRA likes to play the long game so we are left wondering why our rights matter less to them than any other sector of society.
The NRA did not respond to our multiple requests for more information on their stance but did, in turn, send us multiple requests to become paying members.
Groucho Marx once famously said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.” Well, I sure as hell don’t want to join one that doesn’t accept me or my lifestyle.
Further reading: Is the NRA ‘in crisis’?
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