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U.S. justice department filing likens cannabis users to domestic abusers

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DOJ argument maintains cannabis users are unfit to possess firearms since the associated impairing effects ‘make it dangerous’ for them to do so

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A Florida lawsuit arguing it’s unconstitutional to deny medical marijuana patients firearms recently saw the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) hold firm on its stance that guns and ganja should not mix.

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This past April, Nikki Fried, Florida’s commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, and medical marijuana patients denied guns, filed a lawsuit against the DOJ and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Not allowing patients to have firearms violates their Second Amendment rights

The lawsuit alleges a ban on purchasing firearms is a violation of the Second Amendment rights of legal medical marijuana cardholders and, as such, punishes “them for state-legal activity without a reasonable basis to do so.”

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The lawsuit points out that while patients can legally participate in Florida’s medicinal cannabis program, “solely” due to that use, the defendants are deemed “too dangerous to exercise their Second Amendment rights.” This deprivation of Constitutional rights “does not survive any level of appropriate legal scrutiny.”

To the plaintiff’s argument that medical marijuana patients do not fit in historically disarmed groups, the DOJ motion contends that the “plaintiffs’ only response is their incorrect assertion that medical marijuana users are ‘law-abiding.’”

Although simple cannabis possession is a misdemeanour charge for a first offence, “misdemeanours can also justify disarmament,” the motion states, pointing out that courts have “upheld the ban on firearms possession by domestic violence misdemeanants by analogizing it to disarmament of felons.”

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Marijuana users “also 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,” the motion continues.

Fried calls for “federal and equitable legalization of cannabis”

In an op-ed appearing in Marijuana Moment this past May, Fried wrote: “We need federal and equitable legalization of cannabis so that no one is left behind. We need policies that allow this medicine to be equally available to all without resulting in the surrendering of other rights or opportunities.”

In August, the DOJ moved to dismiss the lawsuit. “The court should dismiss all claims for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction or failure to state a claim,” notes the defendant’s reply in support of dismissal, dated Sept. 21.

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The proposed dismissal prompted Fried to issue a statement that the federal prohibition on “state-legal medicine continues to harm patients, imprison tens of thousands of Americans and stifle the growth of this growing industry to the detriment of our economy.”

Characterizing the motion as “beyond disappointing,” she added the justice department “has chosen to double down on harmful prohibition policies. DOJ’s argument is as offensive as it is inaccurate, utilizing centuries-old case law and making false claims demonizing medical marijuana patients — including perpetuating prejudicial stereotypes that cannabis users are dangerous or mentally ill.”

Right to bear arms does not apply to those “engaged in criminal activity”

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The DOJ motion, however, argues that “the Second Amendment does not guarantee the right to possess firearms while engaged in criminal activity.” It goes on to note that “plaintiffs argue that the crime of marijuana possession is somehow not really a crime. Plaintiffs are wrong.”

Under federal law, cannabis — as is the case with other Schedule 1 substances like heroin, LSD and ecstasy — is deemed to have no “currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

At the state level, 37 states, four permanently inhabited U.S. territories and the District of Columbia have medicinal marijuana programs, according to World Population Review.

The DOJ defence further argues that its stance has not interfered with regulatory activities or caused injury to the defendants. “Marijuana possession is a federal crime, even for medical marijuana users,” the department reports.

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“Those who possess medical marijuana are committing crimes today for which they may be prosecuted in the future. Therefore, they are no ‘law-abiding’,” the motion contends.

“Defendants showed that marijuana’s impairing effects make it dangerous for marijuana users to possess firearms,” it reads. Citing the Florida Board of Medicine’s informed consent form, the DOJ notes 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.

“A marijuana user who possesses a firearm will have access to that firearm when she uses marijuana. And because marijuana impairs judgment, the danger exists that she will fail to exercise sound judgment and use the firearm while impaired,” the DOJ motion contends.

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Some studies cite association, not cause, between cannabis use and violence

In a U.S. review published in 2020, investigators adopted a public health perspective when considering 14 cases of violence with chronic cannabis users.

“Although marijuana effects depend on the individual’s endocannabinoid receptors (which control behavioural functions, like aggression) and the potency level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the drug, scientifically documented links between certain marijuana users and violence do exist,” researchers suggested.

“Considering the recency of policy changes on cannabis, further methodologically sound research using longitudinal designs should examine the effects that cannabis use may have on different forms of violence and the trends that emerge, while evaluating the effects of possible confounding factors (e.g. other substance use),” adds another study released later that year.

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Research published in late 2021, notes results suggest a link between cannabis use and violence. That said, “this relationship is strictly correlational, and the strength of this relationship varies depending on the population (e.g., populations with severe and persistent mental illness versus the general population).”

Yet another study from earlier in 2022, this time looking at individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder, cited an association with aggression or violence in individuals. Once again, however, the investigators emphasized “causal conclusions cannot be drawn due to methodological limitations observed in the current literature.”

Per Marijuana Moment, there are several studies identifying an association between cannabis legalization and decreased incidents of domestic violence.

In Florida, qualified medical marijuana patients can use the drug at home or on private property such as their private residence. Public use is illegal, except for low-THC cannabis, according to Medical Marijuana Treatment Clinics.

Poll results released in early 2022 found that less than a quarter of respondents say U.S. President Joe Biden has made solid progress on decriminalizing cannabis in his first year in office, despite a campaign promise to do so.

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