TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Arguing that the country has a long tradition of viewing intoxication and firearms as a "dangerous" mix, the U.S. Department of Justice on Monday asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried challenging federal prohibitions on medical-marijuana patients buying guns.
Justice Department court filings, in part, focused on arguments that it is "dangerous to trust regular marijuana users to exercise sound judgment while intoxicated" and that federal firearm restrictions are legally sound.
"Marijuana users pose a danger comparable to, if not greater than, other groups that have historically been disarmed," such as mentally ill people, Justice Department lawyers wrote.
The Biden administration also maintained that restrictions prohibiting marijuana users from purchasing guns are justified because, although medical marijuana has been authorized in Florida, cannabis remains illegal under federal law.
Fried, a Democrat who is running for governor, filed the lawsuit in April, alleging the federal prohibitions "forbid Floridians from possessing or purchasing a firearm on the sole basis that they are state-law-abiding medical marijuana patients."
In an amended complaint filed last month, lawyers for Fried relied in part on a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a New York law that placed strict limits on carrying concealed weapons in public. Gun-control advocates have expressed concerns that the decision could severely restrict states’ ability to regulate guns.
But in a memorandum of law accompanying Monday’s motion to dismiss Fried’s lawsuit, the Justice Department argued that the recent court decision held that the New York regulation violated the Second Amendment because it "prevented law-abiding citizens … from exercising their right to keep and bear arms."
By contrast, the restrictions Fried is challenging "impose no burden on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens," federal lawyers wrote.
"These laws merely prevent drug users who commit federal crimes by unlawfully possessing drugs from possessing and receiving firearms, and only for so long as they are actively engaged in that criminal activity," the lawyers added, noting that "possession of illegal drugs, including marijuana, is a federal crime."
Such restrictions "on unlawful drug users are ‘consistent with this nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation,’" Monday’s memo said, partially quoting from the June 23 Supreme Court ruling in the New York case.
The Biden administration pointed to centuries-old case law showing that, in England and the United States, governments "regularly disarmed a variety of groups deemed dangerous," including Catholics and panhandlers.
"Many American colonies forbade providing Indians with firearms," the Justice Department’s lawyers also noted.
"Perhaps most relevant here, a long tradition exists of viewing intoxication as a condition that renders firearms possession dangerous, and accordingly restricting the firearms rights of those who become intoxicated," they wrote.
But Fried’s amended complaint maintained that prohibiting people who use medical marijuana from buying or having guns is a relatively recent development in the U.S.
"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 lawsuit said. "In fact, historical evidence shows that marijuana was considered a legitimate and legal form of medicine in England, America, and other western countries through the mid-Nineteenth and early-Twentieth Centuries."
The Biden administration’s lawyers also tried to pick holes in Fried’s arguments that medical-marijuana patients should be allowed to possess guns and be trusted not to use them when they’re high.
Monday’s memo pointed to a consent form, created by the Florida Board of Medicine, in which patients must acknowledge that marijuana impairs "the ability to think, judge and reason."
"It is therefore dangerous to trust regular marijuana users to exercise sound judgment while intoxicated, a fact tragically borne out by the frequency with which marijuana users drive while impaired and suffer fatal collisions," the Justice Department’s lawyers argued.
Fried, a lawyer who is Florida’s lone statewide elected Democrat, said Tuesday she was disappointed by the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and the memo backing it up.
"Calling marijuana users dangerous. Using a 1633 case about the disarming of Indians. It is very disappointing. And so we will … have a response to the motion to dismiss," Fried, a prominent supporter of medical marijuana, told reporters.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Fried, two women who are medical-marijuana patients and want to possess guns, and a man who is a gun owner and wants to become a medical-marijuana patient.
Federal lawyers argued in Monday’s memo that plaintiffs "lack standing for most of their claims."
Fried’s lawsuit also accused the Biden administration of defying a federal law, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, that bars Justice Department officials from using agency funds to prevent states with medical-marijuana programs "from implementing state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana."
Previous court decisions have found that the law prohibits federal officials from spending money to prosecute people who engage in conduct permitted by state medical-marijuana laws, Fried’s lawyers wrote.
But the memo filed Monday said the Justice Department hasn’t prosecuted any people for using medical marijuana in compliance with state law and noted that Florida has a robust and rapidly expanding medical-marijuana market.
"The inability for medical marijuana users to possess firearms, or the possibility of prosecution if a medical marijuana user unlawfully possesses a firearm, does not prevent Floridians from using medical marijuana," the Justice Department lawyers argued. "Nothing in the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment requires DOJ to permit medical marijuana users to possess firearms."