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Justice Department Appeals Decision On Gun Rights Ban For Marijuana Consumers

The US government is currently at the forefront of an appeal of a federal court judge’s recent ruling that deemed the ban on prohibiting people who use cannabis from possessing firearms unconstitutional.

In a filing submitted in February, the Justice Department told the US District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma that it would oppose the ruling in the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. 

The two-page document by US Attorney Robert Troester and Assistant US Attorney David McCrary does little to expand on the reasoning behind the appeal. Still, it will be expanded in a subsequent filing before the appeals court. 

No doubt, the federal court ruling does much to put legal cannabis users between a rock and a hard place. Read as we unpack the gun rights ban for marijuana consumers.

What Triggered The Gun Rights Ban For Marijuana Consumers?

The development comes on the heels of the dismissal of an indictment against Jared Michael Harrison by federal court judge Patrick Wyrick. Harrison was charged in Oklahoma in 2022 after police found marijuana and a handgun in his vehicle during a traffic stop. 

The federal court ruling then determined the statute banning ‘unlawful’ users of cannabis from firearm possession is, in fact, in violation of the constitutional Second Amendment. 

Wyrick’s decision was based primarily on an interpretation of a recent US Supreme Court ruling where the justices had generally created a higher standard for policies that seek imposing gun rights restrictions. The ruling states that such restrictions should be consistent with the historical contexts of the Second Amendment’s original ratification in 1791. 

The Justice Department’s Justification

The historical justification that the Justice Department emphasized to make the case that the ban was consistent undoubtedly misses the mark and cannot provide the basis for a historical analog, according to the federal court judge in last month’s ruling. His sentiments also mentioned the continual references to outdated case law, which prevented Catholics, loyalists, slaves, and Indians from having guns– where he described it as ‘antiquated.’

The Department of Justice argued similarly about using a historical precedent in a separate, concurrent federal lawsuit. It was raised by former Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and various medical cannabis patients who are actively appealing a ruling from a federal district court after having their suit dismissed in November of 2022.

Several advocates argue that ending federal bans on marijuana consumers isn’t about expanding gun rights by definition, but instead about being constitutional and prioritizing public safety. 

Between A Rock And A Hard Place

Supporters of the lawsuit argue that the requirement of the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Bureau (ATF) goes far to create an incentive for marijuana consumers to either lie on the form, purchase a gun on the black market, or simply forgo their right to bear arms– placing them in a questionable moral position.

Effectively, legal marijuana users will now have to grapple with the trade-off of either dabbling in the illicit weapons market or the illicit cannabis market– which essentially undoes years of progress in marijuana advocacy. The effort to make gun possession and marijuana use congruent in occurrence and not mutually exclusive seems like something of a reach overall.

The ATF issued an advisory in 2020 that specifically targeted Michigan that requires gun retailers to conduct federal background checks on unlicensed gun buyers as it had stated that the state’s marijuana laws had enabled habitual marijuana users and other disqualified individuals to obtain firearms illegally.

Removing Barriers To Gun Ownership

On the back of the federal court’s ruling in February, a GOP Pennsylvania senator recently implored law enforcement to take steps to remove barriers to gun ownership for marijuana consumers, with a focus on medical cannabis patients.

In Maryland, a House committee also held a hearing on a bill that would seek the protection of gun rights for medical cannabis patients in the state.

Meanwhile, another GOP congressman filed a bill in January to allow medical marijuana patients to purchase and possess firearms. Despite its introduction into the 116th Congress, this legislation ultimately failed to launch.

The gun rights ban for marijuana consumers goes far to place further assault on marijuana users countrywide. Something of a ‘Pick Your Poison’ scenario will see users either lie on the federal form or otherwise forgo their Second Amendment rights. One thing for certain is that there is great congressional division on the ruling. We are hopeful that the powers that be will negotiate for equitable regulation in this regard in the time to come. 

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