Take two of the most hot-button, tendentious issues of our time – cannabis use and gun rights – combine them, and now we really have a debate. As the law currently stands, medical cannabis patients are not afforded their 2nd amendment right to bear arms. Technically, all cannabis consumers are banned from buying guns, but only medical users who are registered in the states’ databases feel the brunt of these regulations. In Florida, the agriculture commissioner sided with medical users and filed a lawsuit on their behalf, in hopes of getting that law overturned… only to be promptly shut down by the DOJ and their illogical talking points. What exactly happened with that case, and how can an entire group of people be denied a constitutional right based on what should actually be HIPAA-protected, private medical information?
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What’s the news?
So, a bit of background before the most recent news. Back in April, Florida’s agriculture commissioner, who also happens to be a well-known human rights activist, as well as a born and bred Floridian – Nikki Fried – filed a lawsuit alongside a number of medical cannabis patients on the grounds that it is unconstitutional to prevent them from owning firearms.
“I filed this lawsuit to bring attention to how the federal government’s inconsistent and illogical cannabis policies are creating not only confusion, but actual harm,” Fried stated. “Unfortunately, the issue raised in our lawsuit is just one of the many dilemmas posed that is affecting a massive number of Floridians and even more patients nationwide.”
At first, it seemed like this lawsuit might get some positive attention and results, but a few days ago the Department of Justice filed a motion in response to the case claiming that the existing law remains, and attempted to dispute a series of claims made by the plaintiffs. The DOJ is requesting the case be completely dismissed or issued a summary judgment.
In addition to many outlandish statements (read below) about cannabis users and how reckless and mentally unstable we are, the DOJ made it very clear that as long as cannabis remains a schedule 1 narcotic, anyone using it (even medicinally) is breaking federal law – regardless of what the specific laws are in their respective states. In short, because of the inherent criminality of using cannabis, that means people who partake are “too dangerous” to own guns because of our disregard for federal law (insert eyeroll here).
It’s worth mentioning that personal cannabis possession is only a misdemeanor offence. Add to that, prohibition is unjust, outdated, and ineffective anyway. It should be repealed, not enforced and followed. Numerous laws throughout history have been overturned because they were unconstitutional and/or violated basic human rights; and change typically starts with a revolt at the citizen level.
Cannabis users are “violent”, “mentally ill”, and “dangerous”?
First of all – no, no, and another hard no. But if you were to ask someone from the Department of Justice, their answer would be a resounding “yes” to all three. These were some of the reasons they provided when responding to the lawsuit in Florida. More specifically, they stated that: “Defendants showed that marijuana’s impairing effects make it dangerous for marijuana users to possess firearms … Cannabis can affect a user’s coordination, motor skills and cognition, as well as result in dizziness, anxiety, confusion, an inability to concentrate, paranoia and psychotic symptoms.”
The DOJ motion also contended that, “Marijuana users engage in criminal activity that renders firearms possession dangerous, albeit for different reasons (i.e., the propensity for violence for domestic violence misdemeanants, and the impairing effects of marijuana for marijuana users). A marijuana user who possesses a firearm will have access to that firearm when he/she uses marijuana. And because marijuana impairs judgment, the danger exists that he/she will fail to exercise sound judgment and use the firearm while impaired.”
Honestly, it’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve read in a very long time. As if people get stoned and just go buck wild and start shooting with no regard to anything – very reminiscent of Reefer Madness-style propaganda. But it’s simply not true, and at this point, it’s not something that anyone with even a shred of common sense would be inclined to believe.
They did point to a couple of flawed studies which claimed marijuana use was prevalent among men who were arrested for domestic violence. What the studies failed to address is any other confounding variables that may have led to the domestic violence – such as the use of other substances, family histories of violence, mental health, and so on. An act as serious as domestic violence is a complex psychological issue that takes years and numerous different elements to develop. It’s certainly not as black and white as “smoke weed, get paranoid, become violent”, which is what these studies, and the DOJ, are making it out to be.
Hypocrisy beyond measure
These regulations might make more sense if everyone got drug tested before purchasing a firearm, but that is not how it goes. I’ve owned guns in three states: California, Nevada, and Indiana. California’s laws were the most stringent and even there, I did not have to submit a drug test. As a matter of fact, not a single US state requires any sort of drug screening for weapons purchases. In the latter two states (NV and IN), buying a gun was just about as easy as grabbing a pack of cigarettes or case of beer at your local mini mart. Just pick what you want, show your ID and pay, and you’re out the door with your gun of choice – be it a little purse revolver, a semi-automatic assault rifle, and everything in between.
Now don’t get me wrong, I do not actually have a problem with that. Aside from the fact that I own guns myself and they do make me feel safer on a certain level; I truly believe that good, law-abiding people should be able to do whatever they want (within reason of course), and whatever makes them feel safe, happy, and comfortable in their lives. Owning a full-blown arsenal of weapons and ammo seems a bit crazy, but having a couple of guns around just in case, that doesn’t seem unreasonable to me (although this is just my personal opinion on that specific matter).
Where this all gets hypocritical in regards to weed, is in the methodology used to deny medical cannabis patients the right to bear arms. The way that it’s done, is during the background check process in medical and adult-use states, the customer is searched in the medical cannabis patient database (if they don’t provide the information upfront) that states are required to maintain through the department of health. If they’re in it, they’ll get denied for a firearm purchase.
The reason for this is because cannabis use is federally prohibited, and engaging in criminal activity bars people from being able to buy guns. But the fact that no drug test is administered during background checks, indirectly means that recreational users can continue buying guns unhindered; whereas medical patients, who are following the laws in their state of residence, cannot do the same. Not to mention, people who use equally illegal but much more dangerous drugs like methamphetamine, heroin, and so on, are not getting turned away at gun stores like medical pot patients are.
And don’t even get me started on alcohol. It’s legal, despite being statistically known as the “deadliest drug on earth”, responsible for more violent crimes and homicides than all other drugs combined. In American cities and towns, higher rates of violent crimes are directly linked to the presence of liquor stores in neighborhoods. According to a 2021 study, in areas where there was a “10 percent increase in access to liquor stores and beer and wine stores, there was also a 37 percent greater association with violent crime”. Yet alcoholics can buy guns, and medical cannabis patients cannot. In the small town I currently live in – Cloverdale, IN – where we don’t even have a pet store or a CVS, we do have a liquor store and a gun shop, and they happen to be right across the street from each other.
A brief history of constitutional gun rights in the United States
Ah, the second amendment – one of the most fundamental, yet controversial of our constitutional rights as Americans. Let’s take a quick look at the exact text of the second amendment and break down what it means. The text: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
What exactly does that mean… or more specifically, what were our founding fathers referring to when they said, “a well-regulated militia”? Some argue that a “well-regulated militia” is a military group that is organized and supervised by the government, but by definition, a militia is “any fighting organization of non-professional soldiers, citizens of a country, or subjects of a state.” Often, militias are formed to fight against the government or ruling force of a nation. When combining “well-regulated militia” with “free state” and “right of the people”, it seems clear that the right to bear arms was established in order to give citizens a fighting chance to protect themselves against a tyrannical and out of control governing body.
There’s debate on whether the 2nd amendment is even still relevant today or not, and those who oppose the 2nd amendment generally offer two common arguments: (1) because it was written so long ago and during a much different period in history, and (2) because the weapons we have today are much more destructive and technologically advanced than the weapons they had when the constitution was written.
In my opinion, both arguments are moot points because when you get down to the core of it, the right to bear arms is actually less about the right to own certain weapons, and more about the right for law-abiding citizens to protect themselves from immediate danger, whether that danger comes from criminals or corrupt government forces. And if we’re assuming that all the other amendments are still our intrinsic rights, it’s safe to conclude that the right to bear arms counts as well.
Whether you like it or not, both cannabis and guns are a huge part of American culture and history; and use/ownership of both are fundamental human rights. According to founding-era legal scholar St. George Tucker, “The right to self-defense is the first law of nature: in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine the right within the narrowest limits possible.” That’s hard to disagree with.
Regarding weed, let’s look at the preamble to the Declaration of Independence about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. That short statement essentially encompasses the entire essence behind what a democratic government should be, and considering how cannabis is natural, therapeutic, and a person’s use of it does not infringe on the rights of another, banning it should be viewed as being unconstitutional as well.
But again, regardless of what your views are on the 2nd amendment, the main takeaway here is that preventing ONLY medical cannabis users from buying firearms, while other drug users are free to purchase them as they please, is a particularly low blow.
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