A three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last week reversed longstanding restrictions blocking marijuana users from possessing firearms.

The court, in an appeal in the case of Patrick Darnell Daniels of Gulfport, Mississippi, found unconstitutional the 1968 law that bars an individual from lawful firearm possession if they are an “unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance." 

Daniels, who was arrested by local police and a DEA agent in April 2022 after a traffic stop for a missing license plate found marijuana cigarette butts in the ashtray and two loaded firearms, was charged in a federal district court on the "unlawful user" statute and given nearly four years in prison in addition to having his Second Amendment rights stripped away for life. While Daniels had admitted to smoking marijuana since high school and consumed the "Devil's Lettuce" about 14 times a month, he was not otherwise a lawbreaker. 

The thing is, held the appeals court panel, the 1968 law, as viewed through the lens of the Bruen ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, doesn't square with the historical right to bear arms and tossed the conviction. 

"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,” said U.S. Chief Judge Jerry Edwin Smith, a 1987 Reagan appointee, in the court’s opinion. "Nor do more generalized traditions of disarming dangerous persons support this restriction on nonviolent drug users. As applied to Daniels, then, § 922(g)(3) violates the Second Amendment. We reverse the judgment of conviction and render a dismissal of the indictment."

Gun rights groups including the Firearms Policy Coalition and FPC Action Foundation had filed legal briefs supporting Daniels' case, urging the result that the court reached, and argued "In over 150 years of colonial history, few laws restricted firearms use by intoxicated persons. None restricted firearms use by people who were sober at the time, but otherwise used intoxicants."

 

 

The case's outcome, which is now binding unless overturned in the rest of the Fifth Circuit – which comprises Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas – comes just six months after a federal judge in Oklahoma similarly held that the "mere status as a user of marijuana" does not justify the government "stripping [the defendant] of his fundamental right to possess a firearm." Likewise, a federal judge in Texas issued a nearly identical decision in April.

"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 U.S. Constitution. Unfortunately, these rulings are not universally applicable or binding," said Morgan Fox, political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "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."

Although marijuana is legal for recreational and/or medical use by adults in at least 37 states, it remains listed as a highly addictive and dangerous Schedule I drug by the federal government. It shares the same designation as ecstasy, heroin, and LSD. This has resulted in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives maintaining a status quo that any sale or possession of firearms by those who use marijuana – even if it is otherwise allowed by state law – remains criminal.

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