A US District Court judge has ruled that a federal law that prohibits cannabis users from owning firearms is a violation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution.
The ruling was issued in the case of Jared Harrison, an Oklahoma man who was charged with illegal firearm possession in 2022 after cops discovered cannabis and a handgun in his car. Harrison argued that he was not violating any state laws, as he had a legal gun permit and a state-licensed medical marijuana card. But despite his full compliance with state law, prosecutors still indicted him on federal firearms charges.
Prosecutors were able to file these charges thanks to a federal law that prohibits anyone who uses illegal drugs from owning a firearm. This War On Drugs-era policy was designed to allow federal prosecutors to ramp up charges against drug dealers, but it ended up creating a new legal issue once individual states began legalizing weed. State-level cannabis reform laws have allowed millions of Americans the right to legally use cannabis, either medically or recreationally, but these millions of people are all now technically banned from owning guns.
Several states have already used federal gun restrictions as an excuse to harass state-legal cannabis users. In 2015, Illinois revoked medical marijuana patients' firearms permits, and in 2017, Hawaii cops actually threatened to take patients' guns away from them. Both states ended up backing down on these plans after extreme public backlash, though. Meanwhile, in states that have legalized weed, lawmakers have proposed bills that would explicitly protect cannabis users' gun rights, in direct defiance of federal law.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried went one step further and sued the US Department of Justice (DOJ) last summer, arguing that the federal gun restriction is completely unconstitutional. In their defense, DOJ officials have argued that cannabis users are too “dangerous” to be trusted with guns because weed prevents them from exercising “sound judgement.” Of course, the feds are still perfectly willing to allow alcoholics or prescription drug addicts to buy as many guns as they want.
Jared Harrison also sued the DOJ to challenge his indictment, and he just won his day in court. Last week, US District Judge Patrick Wyrick dismissed Harrison's indictment, ruling that the federal gun ban is thoroughly unconstitutional. In his ruling, Wyrick explained that the defendant's “mere status as a user of marijuana” does not justify “stripping him of his fundamental right to possess a firearm," Reuters reports. "The mere use of marijuana carries none of the characteristics that the Nation's history and tradition of firearms regulation supports.”
Harrison's attorney, Laura Deskin, told Reuters that the ruling is a "step in the right direction for a large number of Americans who deserve the right to bear arms and protect their homes just like any other American."
The District Court ruling is probably not the final word on the issue, as the DOJ is likely to appeal the decision to a higher court. The case could even make its way to the Supreme Court, but this conservative-majority court has a recent history of supporting Second Amendment rights. In fact, Judge Wyrick based his ruling in the Oklahoma case on a recent Supreme Court case that struck down New York's attempts to limit concealed gun ownership.
Cover image via