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Florida Ag Commissioner Touts Team’s ‘Compelling’ Arguments At Medical Marijuana And Guns Hearing In Federal Court

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Florida’s agriculture commissioner is feeling good about a court hearing last week where she says her legal team did a “compelling job” arguing before a federal judge about their lawsuit challenging the Justice Department over the federal ban on gun ownership by medical marijuana patients.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried filed the lawsuit back in April, alongside Florida medical cannabis patients who are unable to buy or possess firearms because of the federal policy that she says is unconstitutional and discriminatory. There have been multiple filings in the case, and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida held an oral hearing on the matter last week.

The point of the hearing was to address the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss. DOJ has faced criticism over its controversial arguments against the lawsuit, and the department has maintained that statute plainly disqualifies the patients from gun rights because consuming cannabis, even in compliance with state law, is still federally illegal.

The court hasn’t yet reached a decision on the motion, but an attorney representing Fried and the patients told Marijuana Moment on Friday that the judge raised thoughtful questions to both parties over the hour-long proceeding, signaling that he’s taking the issue seriously.

Attorneys did touch on merits of the case, briefly outlining their positions, but formal consideration of those arguments would depend on whether the judge grants or rejects DOJ’s motion to dismiss. If the case is dismissed, plaintiffs would then consider appealing the decision to a higher court.

Fried said following the hearing that the case reflects the fulfillment of her 2018 campaign promise “that I was always going to protect our medical marijuana patients.”

“And so today, I lived up to that promise, and we’ll wait to hear what the judge says,” the commissioner said. “But I think that we did a compelling job to make sure that we get past their motion to dismiss and we continue on the merits of this case.”

The arguments in DOJ’s initial request for the lawsuit to be dismissed took some by surprise, as the department cited historical case law to support the cannabis ban that drew parallels between medical cannabis patients and people who are mentally ill, panhandlers, Catholics and other groups that were previously deprived of the right to possess firearms.

In its most recent filing last month, the department seemed to partially back off its prior assertions that cannabis makes people more inclined toward violent crime in general, but it did say that those who consume marijuana are intrinsically too dangerous to own guns because they’re breaking federal law, even if it’s a misdemeanor offense.

Fried and others, in an earlier filing in the case, took issue with the department’s insistence that medical marijuana patients are inherently dangerous, while still maintaining that people who drink alcohol have a lawful Second Amendment right because drinking is federally legal for adults.

DOJ’s original motion for dismissal read as “insulting,” Fried told Marijuana Moment in August. “I think that they missed the ball here—and it’s very disconcerting that this is the direction that they took.”

Biden’s Justice Department relied on arguments “as ‘contradictory and unstable’ as their overall marijuana policy,” the plaintiff’s last filing says, citing 2021 remarks about the state-federal cannabis conflict from conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

The plaintiffs’ complaint was also revised in July following a Supreme Court ruling that generally created a higher standard for policies that seek to impose restrictions on gun rights. The ruling states that any such restrictions must be consistent with the historical context of the Second Amendment’s original 1791 ratification.

That filing also cited several quotes from U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who said during his confirmation proceedings that DOJ shouldn’t waste resources going after people acting in compliance with state marijuana laws and that marijuana is a “non-violent crime with respect to usage that does not require us to incarcerate people.”

For the time being, the current federal policy persists, making it so people are denied gun purchases if they’re honest about their cannabis use while filling out a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) background check form—regardless of state law.

President Joe Biden hasn’t weighed in on the commissioner’s lawsuit, but he did recently talk about the ATF policy in the context of a possible federal investigation into his son Hunter, who admitted in a memoir that he’d bought a gun while suffering from a substance misuse disorder.

“This thing about a gun—I didn’t know anything about it,” the president told CNN. “But turns out that when he made application to purchase a gun, what happened was he—I guess you get asked—I don’t guess, you get asked a question, are you on drugs, or do use drugs?’ He said no. And he wrote about saying no in his book.”

“So, I have great confidence in my son,” he said. “I love him and he’s on the straight and narrow, and he has been for a couple years now. And I’m just so proud of him.”

As Fried previously told Marijuana Moment, the lawsuit at hand is not about expanding gun rights, per se. It’s a matter of constitutionality that she and other key allies in the gun reform movement feel would bolster public safety if the case ultimately goes in their favor.

Supporters of the lawsuit argue that the ATF requirement effectively creates an incentive for cannabis consumers to either lie on the form, buy a gun on the illicit market or simply forgo a constitutional right.

In 2020, ATF issued an advisory specifically targeting Michigan that requires gun sellers to conduct federal background checks on all unlicensed gun buyers because it said the state’s cannabis laws had enabled “habitual marijuana users” and other disqualified individuals to obtain firearms illegally.

There have been previous efforts in Congress to specifically protect medical cannabis patients against losing their right to purchase and possess guns, but those efforts have not been enacted.

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