How a Supreme Court ruling helped get a cannabis smoker out of prison

People who smoke weed tend to get a bad rap.

Even though attitudes about the drug have changed over the decades, and even though half of Americans admit to having at least tried cannabis at some point in their lives, cannabis users are still stigmatized. 

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This week, a three-judge panel on the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of a man who was sentenced to nearly four years in prison after being pulled over with legal firearms and admitting to occasionally using cannabis. 

“Throughout American history, laws have regulated the combination of guns and intoxicating substances. But at no point in the 18th or 19th century did the government disarm individuals who used drugs or alcohol at one time from possessing guns at another,” the appeals court said.

“In short, our history and tradition may support some limits on an intoxicated person’s right to carry a weapon, but it does not justify disarming a sober citizen based exclusively on his past drug usage.”

The court reversed the conviction of Patrick Daniels, who admitted to authorities under questioning that he used cannabis at least 14 days a month after his car was pulled over by DEA agents who found “several marijuana cigarette butts in the ashtray.”

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He faced a maximum 10 years in prison and $250,000 fine after being convicted of being an “unlawful user of a controlled substance in possession of a firearm.”

But while he was indicted, the Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen that struck down a longstanding law in the state prohibiting citizens from owning guns unless they have “proper cause” to carry. 

In the ruling, the court clarified that firearms regulations are unconstitutional unless they are “firmly rooted in our nation’s history and tradition of gun regulation.”

Daniels immediately filed a motion after the ruling to dismiss his indictment. But the district court in Mississippi denied his motion, saying that he was not a “law abiding, responsible citizen,” based on his admission of marijuana usage. 

The court disagreed.

“The government identifies no class of persons at the Founding (or even at Reconstruction) who were “dangerous” for reasons comparable to marihuana users. Marihuana users are not a class of political traitors, as British Loyalists were perceived to be,” the court ruled. 

“And even if we consider the racially discriminatory laws at the Founding, Daniels is not like the minorities who the Founders thought threatened violent revolt.”

Democrats have rallied around more stringent gun control laws in recent years.

But keeping people out of jail for minor weed offenses is also a big concern with 83% of Democrats saying that marijuana should be legal (while 53% Republicans agree), according to a recent Gallup poll

Considering the fact that the loaded weapons in his vehicle are legal, Daniels would have gone to prison for nearly four years for what essentially is having cannabis roaches in his ashtray and admitting that he is a semi-regular user. 

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals may have taken the long way around, but they handed a significant victory to the cross-section of Americans who believe in the right to bear arms as well as the right to smoke bongs.

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