In a recent development, the Florida Supreme Court chose not to review an appeal from Samuel Velez Ortiz, a former state correctional officer, concerning his termination due to medical marijuana use.
Without providing a detailed rationale, which is standard practice, the Supreme Court's decision effectively upholds a prior ruling from the 1st District Court of Appeal. This ruling supported Velez Ortiz's dismissal from the Florida Department of Corrections. The case's background reveals that Velez Ortiz was prescribed medical marijuana to manage PTSD stemming from his military service. His subsequent failure in a 2021 drug test led to his termination, adhering to the Department's strict anti-drug policy.
Velez Ortiz's initial challenge to his dismissal was backed by the state Public Employees Relations Commission. He then escalated the matter to the 1st District Court of Appeal. The dispute arose despite Florida's 2016 constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana. The appeal court's three-judge panel emphasized marijuana's illegality under federal law, highlighting the conflict between Velez Ortiz's medication and his role, which required firearm possession and proficiency – activities deemed illegal for regular marijuana users under federal statutes.
The appeals court, in its June 21 decision, pointed out the contradiction between state-permitted medical marijuana use and federal prohibitions, especially regarding firearm possession. They argued that Velez Ortiz's required annual firearm qualification for his role as a correctional officer conflicted with his obligation to maintain "good moral character," a prerequisite for his job.
Velez Ortiz's legal team brought forward Second Amendment concerns in their request for Supreme Court intervention, asserting that he did not use or possess cannabis at work, thereby not infringing federal law as per the lower court's judgment. However, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody's office, representing the Department of Corrections, contended that the case lacked a substantial legal basis for Supreme Court review.
The case has garnered significant interest in law enforcement sectors, evidenced by the Florida Sheriffs Association and the Florida Police Chiefs Association submitting supporting briefs.