Marijuana Justice

Another federal court has ruled that longstanding federal restrictions prohibiting marijuana users from possessing firearms are unconstitutional.

On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a 1968 law prohibiting the possession or sale of a firearm to an “unlawful user” of a federally controlled substance should not be applied so broadly that it would criminalize all gun owners with a prior history of marijuana use.

The case in question involved a man sentenced to four years in prison after police found firearms and marijuana cigarette butts in his vehicle. Although the defendant acknowledged that he occasionally smoked marijuana, prosecutors presented no evidence to imply that he was under the influence of cannabis at the time of his arrest.

Justices opined: “Throughout American history, laws have regulated the combination of guns and intoxicating substances. But at no point in the 18th or 19th century did the government disarm individuals who used drugs or alcohol at one time from possessing guns at another. … In short, our history and tradition may support some limits on an intoxicated person’s right to carry a weapon, but it does not justify disarming a sober citizen based exclusively on his past drug usage. Nor do more generalized traditions of disarming dangerous persons support this restriction on nonviolent drug users.”

Members of NORML’s Legal Committee filed an amicus (a/k/a friend of the court) brief in the case calling on the court to find the ban unconstitutional.

The decision comes months after a federal judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma similarly ruled that the “mere status as a user of marijuana” does not justify the federal government “stripping [the defendant] of his fundamental right to possess a firearm.” A judge for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas also issued a similar decision in April.

Commenting on the rulings, NORML’s Political Director Morgan Fox said: “Federal courts are wisely deciding time and again that the simple use of cannabis should not preclude someone from the legal protections offered to all Americans by the US Constitution. Unfortunately, these rulings are not universally applicable or binding. Either the Supreme Court or Congress need to make this the law of the land before any more responsible cannabis consumers are threatened with lengthy prison terms simply for exercising their constitutional rights.”

separate legal challenge to the federal government’s interpretation of the 1968 law, initially brought by former Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried (who now serves as a member of NORML’s Board of Directors) and several medical cannabis patients, remains pending in the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

Earlier this year, Congressional lawmakers introduced a pair of bills — H.R. 363: The Second Amendment Protection Act and H.R. 2772: The GRAM Act — that seek to remove federal firearms-related restrictions on certain individuals who consume cannabis.

The case is United States v Daniels.

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