Ban on Cannabis Owners Bearing Arms found Unconstitutional
Federal Judge rules law violates second amendment.
While cannabis use may be legal for a growing number of the Americans — and necessary medicine for some— those who us it have up until recently been prevented from legally owning and possessing firearms. It’s long been a rallying cry for gun rights activists, but in spite of the various court cases and congressional acts aimed at reform, nothing has moved the needle. However, not just months after a landmark Supreme Court ruling drastically expanded constitutional protections for gun ownership, a Federal District Judge in Oklahoma declared the prohibition against gun ownership for cannabis users unconstitutional. While it’s expected that the US Federal Government will appeal, it nevertheless creates an opening long sought by gun rights advocates to allow many to fully participate in activities where laws and customs are rapidly shifting.
The case was brought by the US Government against Jared Harrison, an Oklahoma medical marijuana employee who was stopped by police officers for running a red light. When the police smelled cannabis, they searched his car and found, in addition to cannabis, gummies, edibles and some half-smoked prerolls in the side door, a loaded gun. Because Harrison did not have a medical cannabis card, and was armed, Harrison was charged on both state and federal grounds. Harrison challenged the federal charge on Second Amendment grounds, claiming that it violated his constitutional rights. US District Court Judge Patrick Wyrick, agreed, saying that the federal case was inconsistent with the historical framing that must guide Second Amendment interpretations.
This historical framing has been insisted upon by all cases ever since the landmark New York State Rifle & Pistol Association vs. Bruen Supreme Court ruling. One by one, Wyrick’s ruling dismantled the constitutional standing of the laws which keep Harrison and other cannabis consumers from using firearms. For instance, the federal government argued that several laws have been enacted throughout history which prevented those under the influence of drugs or alcohol from possessing firearms. Wyrick came back with acknowledging that Harrison was not proven to be high, and that merely using cannabis from time to time does not in and of itself violate the spirit of those historical laws. Plus, Wyrick cast skepticism of the government’s claim that cannabis users could be compared to “dangerous lunatics” who should be kept away from firearms. He suggested by that logic, autistic people and nicotine addicts could be barred from bearing arms, as their conditions are outlined as mental health disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a seminal text for mental health professionals. Citing the ubiquity of medical cannabis in Oklahoma, Wyrick felt the federal government’s characterizations of cannabis as an “unvirtuous” act and its “dangerousness” was disingenuous. “The mere use of marijuana carries none of the characteristics that the Nation’s history and tradition of firearms regulation supports,” he concluded.
A New Day
Wyrick’s opinion represents a dramatic about-face, as practically all cases which have attempted to overcome the federal government’s objections have failed up until now. For instance, in Wilson vs. Lynch, which dealt with a Nevada medical marijuana cardholder’s quest to gain a gun license, the Ninth Circuit of the US Court of Appeals turned it down, citing the very same federal statute that Wyrick shot down with his ruling. Last year, the Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried joined plaintiffs including several medical cannabis users to challenge the firearms ban, only to be refused by US District Judge Allen Windsor, who unlike Wyrick believed that the presence of historical laws banning users of intoxicated substances were enough. The plaintiffs have since appealed, and even though Fried is no longer participating in the suit (she did not seek re-election), her subsequent tweet on the ruling suggested she saw Wyrick’s ruling as vindication. And one of the case’s attorney’s told Marijuana Moment that they “plan to address [the case] in our subsequent filings.”
While the Department of Justice is expected to appeal the ruling, the cracks in the edifice have begun to form. The contradiction between an administration which suggest that no one should go to prison for cannabis, yet still argues in court for their unvirtuousness, has finally reached its breaking point. However long it takes before it ultimately does is the only question.