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Appeals Court Gears Up to Decide on Florida Case Challenging Gun Ban for Medical Marijuana Patients

TALLAHASSEE — A panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear arguments on October 5th in a Florida lawsuit that challenges the federal ban on medical marijuana patients purchasing and possessing firearms. This week, the case may have received a boost of support.

The lawsuit claims that the ban infringes upon Second Amendment rights. However, the case was initially dismissed in November by U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor, following a request from the federal government.

The Florida medical marijuana lawsuit is set to be heard by an appellate court on October 5th, sparking renewed interest in the battle between federal and state laws. The U.S. Department of Justice recently filed a document with the court, expressing their disagreement with a previous ruling in a similar case from Mississippi.

At the heart of the Florida lawsuit lies the conflict between federal and state regulations on marijuana possession. While federal law prohibits the possession of marijuana, a 2016 constitutional amendment in Florida has opened the doors for hundreds of thousands of patients to legally purchase medical marijuana.

However, federal laws also prohibit certain individuals, including drug users, from buying and possessing firearms. Despite this, the Florida lawsuit was dismissed based on the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives precedence to federal laws over state laws.

Judge Winsor, who dismissed the lawsuit, pointed out that while the 2016 amendment may have been seen as "legalizing" medical marijuana, it did not truly do so, as federal law prohibits its possession for any purpose. Quoting a legal precedent, Winsor emphasized that state laws cannot contradict federal law under the Supremacy Clause.

As the case heads to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, all eyes will be on the potential implications for medical marijuana laws in Florida and beyond.

The Mississippi case involving defendant Patrick Daniels and marijuana use is not related to medical marijuana. Daniels admitted to regular marijuana use when authorities discovered marijuana in his vehicle during a traffic stop. However, the focus of both the Florida and Mississippi cases centers on a law that prohibits individuals who use drugs illegally from possessing guns. A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals referred to a 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that emphasizes evaluating gun restrictions based on their alignment with the nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation.

The appeals court in New Orleans concluded that, in Daniels' case, the federal law restricting gun possession for drug users does not pass the historical test. The ruling, issued on Wednesday, states that while historical tradition may support limitations on an intoxicated person's right to carry a weapon, it does not justify disarming a sober citizen solely based on their past drug use. The court found that broader traditions of disarming dangerous individuals also do not justify imposing this restriction on nonviolent drug users. Consequently, the law in question violates the Second Amendment as applied to Daniels.

Federal law prohibits individuals with certain mental illnesses from possessing firearms. However, a recent appeals court ruling compared drug use to alcohol consumption and argued that there is no historical tradition of disarming citizens who consume alcohol. This decision contrasts with a previous Supreme Court ruling in the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen case. Judge Winsor, who made the November decision, reached a different conclusion from the recent ruling.

"In the historical tradition, guns have been withheld from individuals deemed dangerous by the government, such as alcoholics and the mentally ill. This is comparable to modern laws that prevent habitual users of controlled substances from owning guns," stated Winsor.

The Florida case, filed in April 2022, had a prominent advocate of medical marijuana, former state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, among its plaintiffs.

Winsor's ruling revealed that the other plaintiffs included two medical marijuana patients who were unable to purchase firearms after admitting marijuana use on federal forms issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. One plaintiff was a gun owner who desired to partake in the medical marijuana program yet refrained out of concern for potential prosecution under federal law.

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