Federal Gun Ban for Cannabis Consumers Rejected by Appeals Court

August 28, 2023 Criminal Defense, Drug Charges, News & Announcements

A federal court in New Orleans just ruled that restricting marijuana users from possessing a firearm is unconstitutional.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously found the 1968 law conflicts with a citizen’s right to carry a firearm. More specifically, prohibiting a person from purchasing or possessing a firearm when declared an “unlawful user” of a controlled substance should not be so broad to where it criminalizes all gun owners who have previously used marijuana.

The case involved a man who was sentenced to nearly four years in prison after law enforcement found firearms and traces of marijuana in his vehicle. This page will highlight the Gun Control Act of 1968, the specific case that went to the federal Appeal’s Court, and the recent ruling.

While this is not specific to Florida, this case provides an example of how state and federal laws on lawful gun possession and marijuana possession continue to change.

U.S. Gun Control Act of 1968

The Gun Control Act of 1968 was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on October 22, 1968. The law imposed federal licensing for the manufacturing and dealing of firearms, as well as a ban on all interstate transportation of weapons to or from individuals not licensed as dealers, manufacturers, importers, or collectors. The act also banned the sales of rifles and shotguns and prohibited the sale of firearms to specific classes of persons, including “unlawful user[s] of . . . marijuana or any depressant or stimulant drug or narcotic drug.”

The Patrick Daniels Case

Patrick Darnell Daniels, Jr., 26, was arrested in 2022 for the unlawful use of a controlled substance while in possession of a firearm.

According to the report, Daniels was stopped during a traffic stop in Hancock County, Mississippi on April 25, 2022. During the stop, police found Daniels in the possession of a handgun, an assault rifle, and marijuana cigarette butts. Daniels admitted to police that he had used marijuana, which led to his arrest.

During the trial, the jury deliberated for less than an hour before finding Daniels guilty. He was sentenced in July 2022 to nearly four years in prison and three years of probation.

The case went to the Appeals Court, where a unanimous three-judge panel found the 1968 Act unconstitutional. The reason was partially due to the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision that changed the landscape for lower courts analyzing gun restrictions.

Additionally, the court ruled that although Daniels admitted to occasionally using marijuana, the prosecution had no evidence presented to prove that the defendant was under the influence of the controlled substance during the time of his arrest.

Circuit Judge Jerry Smith stated: “As applied to Daniels, then, [the federal gun law] violates the Second Amendment.”

Supreme Court’s 2022 Gun Ruling

In June 2022, the Supreme Court declared for the first time ever the right to carry a handgun in public for self-defense under the U.S. Constitution.

In the case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the Supreme Court announced that assessing firearm laws and restrictions must be “consistent with this nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

The 6-3 ruling found that the 1913 law violated a person’s right to “keep and bear arms” under the Second Amendment. The decision, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, has the potential to challenge gun restrictions in other states—including the Daniels case.

August 2023 Federal Ruling

According to U.S. Circuit Judge Jerry Smith, the decision meant that the statute had become invalid to Daniels’ case. The following statement comes from Judge Smith’s full response:

“Throughout American history, laws have regulated the combination of guns and intoxicating substances. But at no point in the 18th or 19th century did the government disarm individuals who used drugs or alcohol at one time from possessing guns at another…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.”

Several months prior, a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma ruled that the “mere status as a user of marijuana” is not enough to justify the federal government’s “stripping [the defendant] of his fundamental right to possess a firearm.”

The following is a statement from NORML’s Political Director, Morgan Fox, in response to the recent ruling:

“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. Either the Supreme Court or Congress need to make this the law of the land before any more reasonable cannabis consumers are threatened with lengthy prison terms simply for exercising their constitutional rights.”

Another legal challenge faces the federal government—the challenge to the 1968 law brought by former Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. The case remains pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. However, the case is expected to be heard this October.

Additionally, there are two bills that were introduced earlier this year that seek to remove the federal restrictions for firearms on certain individuals who consume cannabis. The Second Amendment Protection Act and The GRAM Act were introduced by Congressional lawmakers.

Contact a Tallahassee Marijuana Defense Attorney

While the legislation surrounding marijuana consumption continues to change in both the State and Federal level, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the current laws and penalties for unlawful marijuana possession. If you or someone you love are being accused of a marijuana crime, you should contact a Tallahassee criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

Depending on the type of drug offense you have been charged with, you could be facing expensive fines, imprisonment, or both. The best way to fight these charges and clear your name is to hire an attorney experienced in drug charges. Don Pumphrey and his team have worked on numerous drug cases and are prepared to fight aggressively to defend your case. Contact Pumphrey Law Firm today at (850) 681-7777 or leave us an online message for a free consultation. 

Written by Karissa Key

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