An unlikely alliance of far-right conservatives and legal marijuana advocates is pushing to allow medical cannabis patients to own guns.
The federal government classifies marijuana as an illicit drug — on par with heroin, LSD and ecstasy — and prohibits anyone who uses an "unlawful" substance from purchasing a firearm.
Some gun-rights supporters and pro-legalization groups and legislators are lobbying during the special session to allow the Minnesota Department of Health to petition the federal government to exempt marijuana from its schedule I classification for patients on the medical program, meaning the government recognizes it has medicinal qualities.
If their effort is successful, Minnesota would be the first of 36 states that allow medical marijuana in some form to appeal directly to the federal government on behalf of its enrollees, a number that's expected to expand three to four times over the next few years with the addition of the dried flower for adults.
"The registry is going to grow a lot," said Rep. Jeremy Munson, R-Lake Crystal, who has been advocating for a change in the classification. "All of those people will be denied the right to get a shotgun in the fall to go hunting."
It's an issue that's been gaining support at the Capitol since the lawmakers established the medical marijuana program in 2014. Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, voted in favor of medical cannabis after a plea from a family whose daughter had severe seizures.
A few years later, Hamilton was prescribed medical cannabis by his primary physician and neurologist to treat the symptoms of his multiple sclerosis. After he enrolled in the program, he was told he couldn't renew his permit for his gun because it was barred by the federal government.
"In the eyes of the federal government, we're all felons, and it's just tragic," Hamilton said.
It's been nearly two years since he enrolled in the program and Hamilton has never filled his prescription for medical cannabis. When his time on the program lapses in August, he doesn't plan to renew it, but he will renew his gun permit. He said he thinks many other passionate gun owners will make the same choice.
"Do I feel like I've missed out? Absolutely I do. My doctors think this would provide me some relief," Hamilton said. "I am prioritizing, right, wrong or otherwise, my Second Amendment rights over using, in the eyes of Minnesota, a lawful medical product."
Another solution pitched by some legislators is to write a state law reclassifying marijuana as a schedule II substance.
That would directly contradict federal law, but it could give Minnesotans some cover when signing up for the medical program. States like Oregon have also reclassified marijuana as a schedule II drug in state law.
"It creates all kinds of barriers, legal, research and otherwise," said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, who has backed the change for years. He notes that even if Minnesota reclassified the drug, it would still require a federal change. "But it's a start and it creates a critical mass."
Despite years of setbacks on the issue, marijuana advocates say the change is still being debated as part of the state's public safety and health and human services budget bills. They're also pushing to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Supporters are encouraged by what happened during the regular session, when the divided Legislature agreed to allow raw cannabis flower to be included in the program for adults 21 and older.
More than 35,000 people are enrolled in the state's medical cannabis program, but that number is expected to grow three or four times with the addition of the more affordable raw flower product.
Previously, only the more expensive processed cannabis oils, pills and liquids were allowed.
That change came on the heels of the first floor vote in state history, when the House voted to legalize recreational marijuana for adults. The Senate didn't take up the measure before the regular session adjourned, but House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said "surprising things can happen" during a special session of the Legislature.
"Nobody really expected the medical program to be so successfully changed this year," said Winkler, who carried the full legalization bill. "When you see Republican support and Democratic support in the House and Senate, there is a possibility to move forward."