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Cannabis and Firearms: Profile — Brian

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In Part 1…

We were introduced to Kim Petters, a U.S. Air Force veteran who developed PTSD but found relief with Delaware’s medical marijuana program. Due to federal law 18 U.S.C. 922 (g), however, legal users of cannabis can not be legal owners of firearms. Petters, and others in similar situations, are faced with the difficult decision of choosing protection or pain relief. Dr. Corey Burchman, a Navy veteran in New York City, believes CBD can be used as an alternative to opioids, noting that owning a gun is allowed for users of other prescribed forms of pain relief.

In Part 2, we dived into the complications of navigating state and federal laws. Cannabis use leading to the loss of an individual’s Second Amendment rights has been a topic of conversation since the Nixon Administration. The issue has become increasingly relevant in recent years in the wake of a wave of state-level marijuana legalization. While proposed changes to federal law and/or Drug Enforcement Administration scheduling would resolve the current imbroglio, it’s important to remember that, in the meantime, individuals across the country are caught in a gray area between state law, federal law and the enforcement of those laws. Part 2 discussed where lawmakers stand on the issue, the headway being made on marijuana sobriety tests and what to know when making the very personal decision to carry or medicate.

Millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens have been turned into felons, U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican from Kentucky, observed. And those who do what’s necessary to stay in compliance? Often they’re forced to choose between potentially life-changing medication and the means to defend themselves. Parts 3, 4 and 5 are profiles depicting the lives of three Americans so affected by the current mismatch in state and federal law.

Cannabis and Firearms Series

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series on cannabis and firearms that was originally featured in Concealed Carry Magazine. The U.S. Concealed Carry Association and Concealed Carry Magazine have no editorial stance on marijuana legalization or the medicinal benefits of cannabis. We do, however, advise that all gun owners should do everything within their power to follow all state and federal laws. The aim of this series is to examine the legal concerns and ramifications that firearm owners who are also medical cannabis users face as states across the country continue to legalize marijuana while the drug remains a controlled substance under federal law.

Cannabis and Firearms: Medical Marijuana | Cannabis and Firearms: Federal vs. State Laws | Cannabis and Firearms: Profile — Kim Petters | Cannabis and Firearms: Profile — Brian | Cannabis and Firearms: Profile — Pearson Crosby |


*The subject of this profile wishes to remain anonymous. We have withheld his last name and exact location.*

Serving on a voluntary public safety board of his small Northeastern state was something Brian greatly enjoyed. Forced into retirement by chronic, debilitating headaches, it was a way for the former police officer and federal agent to keep his hand in criminal justice. His colleagues at the worksite were imbued with a sense of civic duty and frequently stayed after hours to ensure the next day’s hearings would go off without a hitch. Sure, the inmates could be jerks, but felons were his people. Figuratively speaking, of course.

“I don’t know them, but I know them,” Brian explained. The trouble began when he looked into his state’s nascent medical marijuana program. He was willing to try anything to get relief from his chronic traumatic encephalopathy (also known as CTE), brought about by multiple concussions over a span of 40 years. He described the attendant pain as not one but two Paul Bunyans hammering railroad spikes into the back of his head.

“It feels like my skull is gonna come splitting out of my skin,” he stated. “It is just incredible, vivid, bloody pain. I can’t tell you how sick I get.”

As he made his way through the paperwork, he noticed that it included a letter from the ATF. The letter effectively said that even prescribed medical marijuana patients are classified as addicts in the eyes of the federal government. And were he to move forward with treatment, he would become a prohibited person with regard to firearms — and effectively lose his Second Amendment rights.

“I never heard something so stupid in my life,” Brian declared in frustration. “For a person of my tenure and experience to be told he can’t be trusted? Forget it. It was arbitrary. It was not well-thought-through.”

Lighting Up

Growing up in Newburyport, Massachusetts, with eight siblings, Brian knew he wanted to be a federal agent from the time he was 9 years old.

“I read a book about the FBI, and that was it,” he said. “That lit the fuse.” Thinking back to what impressed him, Brian recalled it was the methodical nature of the investigations. They weren’t simply one-off affairs. He saw a proud organization, and he wanted in. Brian went on to pursue a sociology degree at a Jesuit college in the Northeast because it didn’t offer one in criminology. He found himself surrounded by academic meat-eaters when he arrived.

Addicted to marijuana. Really? It’s not realistic.

“You don’t go there to find yourself,” he said of the Jesuit institution. “And you have to be on your A-game from the first day of classes. Because they’re expecting it. There’s no weaving around. There’s no recreational turf to get lost in.”

After graduating in the late ‘70s, Brian worked a stint at the Salem District Courthouse in Essex County, Massachusetts, before continuing his academic ways in the police academy. He said he was “a giant sponge” and that there wasn’t anything he didn’t enjoy. He appreciated the classroom modality and that the yelling and stress-inducing exercises, a necessary evil, were reserved for PT. “You have to pressure people to know who’s going to break,” he said, “who’s not going to be able to handle people throwing the F-bomb in your face, inches from your lips. Because, in real life, it’s the way it’s going to happen on the street.”

Brian went to work for a 46-person Massachusetts police department after graduation and mostly enjoyed enforcing the law in his old hometown. It was amusing to write his father a ticket for parking in front of a fire hydrant, but less so when boozy DUI suspects would recognize him.

Government Work

All the while, Brian still had the desire to become a federal agent. It was an itch he had to scratch. Brian applied to agencies “left and right” and, before long, found himself in the Washington, D.C.-based academy of the Naval Investigative Service (known today as the Naval Criminal Investigative Service). After graduating in spring of 1984, he was assigned to the Norfolk, Virginia, office that handled nothing but shipboard investigations.

If it was a sin, Brian stated, it happened in Norfolk first. The Virginia city was the “Disneyworld of crime,” and he loved every minute of it. He was totally engaged in his work. Perhaps the highlight of Brian’s Naval Investigative Service career came a year later in 1985, dubbed by American media as “the year of the spy,” when he helped investigate what has been described as the crime of the century.

“There was a squad of agents that did nothing but foreign counterintelligence investigations,” he said. “And the protocol was, you did not ask to be on that squad. They invited you.” After finding luck with several of his investigations, Brian got the tap on the shoulder. Counterintelligence was so different, he recalled. The squad was insulated from the rest of the Navy. Even the paychecks were funded separately from the special agents on the criminal side so nobody could interfere with them.

Early one Wednesday, he was called into work unexpectedly. When he arrived, the activity in the squad bay area buzzed “like Grand Central Station.” Everybody was there, but nobody knew why they were there. Eventually, the boss pulled everyone together and had a case agent outline the file of John Anthony Walker, Jr., a Navy chief warrant officer and communications specialist suspected of spying for the Soviet Union.

“The allegation, if true, was that he had been selling secrets to the Russians for over 18 years,” Brian declared. “Which was stunning to all of us. You work for an organization, you respect the organization, and then somebody pokes you right in the eye with that. It’s troubling.”

While searching a room in Walker’s Maryland home, Brian turned up a box of receipts from Montreal, Vienna, Mexico City and other foreign locales that suggested meetings with the Soviets — a cache that had been overlooked by at least 16 FBI agents, he noted with pride. Walker eventually took a plea deal. But had the case gone to trial, Brian would have been the only agent called to testify, he said.

No Relief

Brian left the Naval Investigative Service after he balked at being assigned to Hawaii, Guam and the Philippines. (Every time he said no, the job shifted 1,500 miles farther west, Brian said.) He figured he’d been put on a list and it was time to seek employment elsewhere.

He worked for an offshoot of Lockheed Martin, an insurance company, regional cable companies and eventually another government agency before his CTE became unbearable. The chief of neurology at Tufts Medical Center told Brian, “You know you didn’t play in the NFL, but your brain doesn’t know it.” With the help of his boss and his general practitioner, Brian went on federal disability.

During Brian’s second five-year term with the board, he came up with a working solution before he tested the waters with medical marijuana. He vowed to never consume cannabis on days he knew he’d sit on hearings. And he sent his collection of firearms to live at his brother’s house in Maine.

“I was going to be damned if I was going to get caught in violation of that law,” he said.

It was all for naught, however. Brian tried THC honey and marijuana cigarettes — several different modalities — and none of them helped relieve his symptoms. He’s currently on legally prescribed narcotics to counter the pain and has pledged his brain to the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank — the largest tissue repository in the world focused on traumatic brain injury (TBI) and CTE — so that something good may come from his suffering. His irritation with the ATF, however, is still palpable. While Brian turned in his medical marijuana card, he has yet to retrieve his guns. That he was placed in such a situation is patently unfair, he said. And the letter of the law needs to change.

“Addicted to marijuana,” he opined. “Really? It’s not realistic. It’s not current. It was somebody doing a fast and dirty. They had to get out of their office on a Friday afternoon. And they had to get rid of this piece of paper. And so they just slapped the wording in there without giving it any thought.”


Cannabis and Firearms Series

Cannabis and Firearms: Medical Marijuana | Cannabis and Firearms: Federal vs. State Laws | Cannabis and Firearms: Profile — Kim Petters | Cannabis and Firearms: Profile — Brian | Cannabis and Firearms: Profile — Pearson Crosby |

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