The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas has ruled that banning cannabis users from possessing firearms is unconstitutional. The court also said the legal principle applies to the sale and transfer of guns. The win was delivered through Paola Connelly, an El Paso resident convicted of separate charges for possessing and transferring a firearm in 2021 while admitting to consuming cannabis.
This recent case in Texas is one of at least four active federal cases surrounding the government’s policy on cannabis and gun ownership.
Under current federal law, cannabis consumers are prohibited from owning or purchasing firearms because they are “an unlawful user or addicted to” a controlled substance. It’s a ban that applies to all cannabis users, including those in states with legal medical and/or recreational cannabis laws.
Another Federal Ruling Against the Ban
Judge Kathleen Cardone granted a motion to reconsider the case, and charges were ultimately dismissed last week. The court had previously issued a conviction, though it said a more recent ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit merited another look. That case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, found that any firearm restrictions must be consistent with the Second Amendment’s original 1791 ratification.
“Quite simply, there is no historical tradition of denying individuals their Second Amendment rights based solely (or even partially) on the use of marijuana,” the case filing states.
Judge Cardone often disputed the Justice Department’s attempts to fall back on its typical arguments around cannabis consumption and gun ownership, like comparing the ban to laws against operating a firearm under the influence of alcohol or gun possession by “unvirtuous” people. She also cited President Biden’s 2022 decision to mass pardon people with federal cannabis possession charges.
“…Even if Connelly were convicted of simple marijuana possession, that conviction would be expunged by the blanket presidential pardon of all such marijuana possessions that, like Connelly’s, took place before October 6, 2022,” the ruling states, even though Biden’s clemency action didn’t actually expunge records.
Dismantling the DOJ’s Argument in Texas
The court added that, since cannabis possession would only rise to a misdemeanor under federal law, “any historical tradition of disarming ‘unlawful’ individuals does not support disarming Connelly for her alleged marijuana use.” The court challenged the Justice Department’s argument in favor of the ban given that the defendant wasn’t ever convicted of a cannabis offense. Rather, she just admitted to using cannabis.
“In short, the historical tradition of disarming ‘unlawful’ individuals appears to mainly involve disarming those convicted of serious crimes after they have been afforded criminal process,” the ruling reads. “Section 922(g)(3), in contrast, disarms those who engage in criminal conduct that would give rise to misdemeanor charges, without affording them the procedural protections enshrined in our criminal justice system. The law thus deviates from our Nation’s history of firearm regulation.”
The court also challenged the assertion that cannabis users are inherently dangerous, citing the fact that more than 20 states now have legal adult-use cannabis and it’s now a regularly used substance by millions of Americans.
“It strains credulity to believe that taking part in such a widespread practice can render an individual so dangerous or untrustworthy that they must be stripped of their Second Amendment rights,” Cardone said.
Similar Ruling From a Neighboring State
The case follows another recent Oklahoma City ruling in February, where a federal judge similarly ruled that the firearm ban on cannabis users is unconstitutional and must not be enforced by prosecutors.
That case involved Jared Michael Harrison, who was arrested by police in Lawton, Oklahoma after officers found cannabis and a loaded revolver in his car during a traffic stop. Harrison told police he was heading to work at a legal medical cannabis business but did not have a state-issued ID card showing he was authorized to use medicinal cannabis.
Harrison’s attorneys challenged the charge, similarly arguing that the firearm ban is not consistent with the country’s tradition of regulating firearms, also citing New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen.
U.S. District Judge Patrick Wyrick similarly rejected the argument that Harrison’s status as a cannabis user “justifies stripping him of his fundamental right to possess a firearm” and ruled that the federal ban on gun ownership “is not a constitutionally permissible means of disarming Harrison.” Wyrick added that cannabis use “not in and of itself a violent, forceful or threatening act.”
The federal court’s full ruling in the Texas case is available here.
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