Oregon law generally prohibits people with drug convictions from getting a permit to carry a concealed handgun. But it makes an exception for those with one minor pot conviction that occurred in Oregon after the state reduced the severity of possession charges four decades ago.
Someone caught in another state with an identical amount of marijuana and convicted under that state's laws could not be granted a license under the current law. It's a quirk in the way the law is written, said Darrell Fuller, general manager of the Oregon State Sheriff's Association. Oregon county sheriffs are responsible for issuing the concealed handgun licenses.
But Fuller said it doesn't make sense to treat a conviction differently just because it happened in another state. In an attempt to address this "issue of fundamental fairness," the sheriff's association wrote a bill that would remove the barrier for people with out-of-state convictions seeking permission to carry a concealed handgun.
"We won't discriminate against foreigners," Fuller said.
Kevin Starrett, director of the Oregon Firearms Federation, said he is happy to see the sheriff's association take up the issue.
"It's certainly a step in the right direction," Starrett said.
He said he helped write a similar bill that was considered in the 2013 regular session but did not pass, and while he would have preferred slightly different wording in the sheriff's association bill, "it's not a deal breaker." He estimated he gets about two calls a week from people with out-of-state pot convictions who have been denied concealed handgun licenses.
At a public hearing on the bill Wednesday, Starrett asked a state House committee to also consider extending the exception to Oregonians convicted of a minor marijuana possession offense under Oregon laws before 1973.
But, depending on the circumstances, those convicted of a single felony marijuana possession under the earlier laws may qualify to have the conviction reduced to a misdemeanor or expunged, according to John C. Lucy IV, a Portland attorney who specializes in marijuana law.
Some gun control advocates question the need for changing the law.
"I don't really see how this is going to make Oregonians safer," said Penny Okamoto, executive director of Ceasefire Oregon, a gun control advocacy organization.
Okamoto said she didn't know how many people were prevented from getting the licenses under the current law, adding that more than 180,000 Oregonians had concealed handgun licenses as of September 2013.
Fuller said the debate over whether concealed handguns make people safer is "a larger philosophical question" not addressed by the proposed changes.
"It's not a gun issue, it's not a marijuana issue," Fuller said. "It's a fairness issue."
Representatives David Gomberg, D-Otis, and Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, both sponsored the bill, which is HB 4068.
After hearing public testimony Wednesday, the state House Judiciary Committee took no action.