NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

March 19, 2013

Lawsuit alleges gun rights violated

Permits denied based on decades-old marijuana convictions

SALISBURY — A local man, with the backing a statewide pro-gun group, has sued the town and its police chief after he was denied a gun permit based on a marijuana possession conviction 40 years ago.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court by Michael Wesson along with Thomas Woods of Natick and Commonwealth Second Amendment Inc., claims that Salisbury and Natick town officials violated the two men’s constitutional rights by denying them access to firearms based on what is now a civil offense rather than a criminal one, according to court documents.

Wesson, 64, was convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession in Maine back in 1973 and paid a $300 fine to resolve the charge without a lawyer. Woods, 51, paid a $10 fine after he was convicted in 1983 for marijuana possession in Virginia. Neither have been convicted of a felony or any disqualifying misdemeanors in any jurisdiction. Furthermore, neither plaintiffs are current drug users or alcohol dependent persons, the complaint reads.

According to the complaint, Massachusetts General Laws prohibits those with a marijuana conviction from being issued gun permits. “Accordingly, Massachusetts has imposed a complete `firearm’ ban on plaintiffs and the entire class of persons convicted of marijuana possession no matter when in history the conviction occurred and without regard for whether that person is not a current user of illegal drugs or drug or alcohol dependent,” the complaint reads.

Attorney Jeffrey T. Scrimo said his clients sued the towns and their police chiefs as a way of clarifying that they have been wrongfully denied their right to bear arms.

“This case is particularly important for both my clients and others who are being denied their Second Amendment rights. I’ve tried, without success, to find cases where any other constitutional rights are denied to citizens for their entire lifetime because they committed a nonviolent, minor misdemeanor in their youth. It’s hard to imagine a situation where an American no longer has freedom of speech or the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, or to vote because they held marijuana in their hands 30 or 40 years earlier,” Scrimo wrote in an email.

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