The new agriculture commissioner of Florida will not be moving forward with a lawsuit filed by his predecessor to challenge the federal ban blocking medical marijuana patients from purchasing and possessing firearms—though the case is moving forward through an appeal filed by remaining non-governmental plaintiffs.
While former Commissioner Nikki Fried (D) had worked to secure a ruling deeming the ban unconstitutional and appealed a district court’s ruling against the lawsuit in November, current Commissioner Wilton Simpson (R) has declined to take up the mantle.
In a filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on Monday, three individuals who are either current medical cannabis patients or wish to become patients and who were previously involved in the case are listed as the appellants against the Justice Department.
They’re seeking an opportunity for an oral hearing on the case, making the same key arguments that were raised in district court while seeking a judgment on whether the district court “construed all well-pled allegations in the Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief in the light most favorable to the Appellants in the Order.”
“Beyond just the question of whether state law-compliant medical marijuana users may be constitutionally disarmed within the history and tradition of this right, questions such as what constitutes a sufficiently analogous historical regulation…remain unsettled,” the filing says. “The Appellants believe that oral argument would assist the Court in its consideration of these important issues.”
It’s not clear why Simpson declined to join the lawsuit, though he is listed as an “interested person” for the purposes of the challenge. Marijuana Moment reached out to his office, but a representative did not immediately provide comment.
A judge with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida dismissed the original lawsuit in November, saying in a 22-page opinion that the plaintiffs “have standing but that their claims fail on the merits.”
The gist of the Judge Allen Winsor’s ruling was that he sided with the Justice Department’s arguments that people who use marijuana, regardless of state law, are engaging in criminal activity at the federal level. And, therefore, there’s precedent to deny them the right to have firearms.
One of the most controversial aspects of the firearms case deals with a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a New York case where justices generally created a higher standard for policies that seek to impose restrictions on gun rights.
The ruling states that any such restrictions must be consistent with the historical context of the Second Amendment’s original 1791 ratification.
DOJ responded earlier in the case by raising eyebrow-raising historical analogues to justify the federal ban by drawing parallels between medical cannabis patients and people who are mentally ill, panhandlers, Catholics and other groups that were previously deprived of the right to possess firearms.
“The Defendants did not meet their burden of showing that precluding marijuana users who comply with their state medical marijuana laws from possessing or purchasing a firearm fits within the history and tradition of the Second Amendment,” the new filing says. “The historical analogies the Appellees sought to draw were neither distinctly nor relevantly similar to the Challenged Laws.”
In a September filing, DOJ seemed to partially back off its prior assertions that cannabis makes people more inclined toward violent crime in general, but it did say that those who consume marijuana are intrinsically too dangerous to own guns because they’re breaking federal law, even if it’s a misdemeanor offense.
Fried and others, in an earlier filing in the case, took issue with the department’s insistence that medical marijuana patients are inherently dangerous, while still maintaining that people who drink alcohol have a lawful Second Amendment right because drinking is federally legal for adults.
DOJ’s original motion for dismissal read as “insulting,” Fried, who unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Florida last year, told Marijuana Moment in August. “I think that they missed the ball here—and it’s very disconcerting that this is the direction that they took.”
Advocates have argued that the lawsuit isn’t not about expanding gun rights, per se. Rather, it’s a matter of constitutionality and public safety.
Supporters of the lawsuit argue that the ATF requirement effectively creates an incentive for cannabis consumers to either lie on the form, buy a gun on the illicit market or simply forgo a constitutional right.
In 2020, ATF issued an advisory specifically targeting Michigan that requires gun sellers to conduct federal background checks on all unlicensed gun buyers because it said the state’s cannabis laws had enabled “habitual marijuana users” and other disqualified individuals to obtain firearms illegally.
Meanwhile, a GOP congressman recently filed a bill that seeks to allow medical cannabis patients to purchase and possess firearms. The legislation was also introduced in the 116th Congress but was not ultimately enacted.
Read the text of the latest filing in the medical marijuana gun rights case below: