Guns and Ganja: Amicus brief from NORML reveals an interesting history of marijuana in America

Guns and Ganja: Amicus brief from NORML reveals an interesting history of marijuana in America
(John Woods/The Canadian Press via AP)

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is a public advocacy group whose mission is to legalize marijuana and create a regulatory framework for safe consumption. They have had tremendous success in decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana in numerous states in the past two decades.


Legalization of marijuana at the state level has brought federal and state laws into conflict, and central to this conflict is the Second Amendment. Federal Law bars users of marijuana from possessing firearms. ATF Form 4473 states this explicitly in Question 21(g):

Warning: The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside.

As expected, this conflict has materialized in the courts. There have been quite a few cases in the courts already, and other legal moves elsewhere. This, however, to the best of my knowledge, is the first time that a marijuana-related advocacy group has stepped in to file an amicus brief in support of the Second Amendment rights of cannabis consumers.

NORML Legal Committee Submits Amicus Brief in Federal Case Challenging Government’s Gun Ban for Medical Cannabis Consumers

The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has accepted the ‘friend of the court’ amicus brief submitted by the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws in a case that seeks to protect the Second Amendment rights of state-authorized medical cannabis patients. 

Appellants in Vera Cooper et. al. v. Attorney General of the United States et. al., Docket No. 22-13893  (a/k/a Cooper v Garland) are challenging the constitutionality of federal statute 18 U.S. Code § 922(g), which bars medical cannabis patients from the right to bear arms as otherwise guaranteed under the Second Amendment. The plaintiffs, Florida residents registered with the state’s medical cannabis program and a gun owner who wishes to participate in the program, insist that medical marijuana patients should not be prohibited from firearm ownership as a class of individuals based solely on their choice of medical treatment. The Appellants cite the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent precedent set forth in the decision New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, Docket. No. 20-843, which insists upon historical examinations for any impingement upon the Second Amendment right. 


It is gratifying to see NORML step in here to defend not just an individual’s right to imbibe a substance that has been harmlessly consumed for millennia, but also their natural right to keep and bear arms. The amicus brief has some interesting revelations about the history of cannabis’ legality in the United States. Among them are:

  • Colonists were required by the King to cultivate and export cannabis.
  • Cannabis was legal tender for barter in the colonies of Virginia (1682), Maryland (1683), and Pennsylvania (1706).
  • Many of the Founding Fathers, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison grew marijuana.
  • Some of the Founding Fathers, including Washington and Madison, smoked cannabis recreationally.
  • Cannabis was introduced into the field of western medicine by Dr. William O’Shaughnessy in the 1830’s and was readily adopted in the United States.
  • The plant was researched rapidly and was entered into the United States Pharmacopoeia as a treatment for a host of ailments and afflictions by 1850.

The amicus brief also goes into the history of how marijuana restrictions were passed, starting with the Marihuana Stamp Tax Act of 1937. There was outright racism behind the laws and the proponents’ own awful words have been included in Pages 17-19 of the amicus brief.


The amicus summarizes its argument as:

At issue here is the reality that the 18 U.S.C. 922(g) medical cannabis ban results in a class-based proscription that is not limited to temporary periods of actual impairment. That blanket prohibition is not tethered to any historical precedent in 1789 or 1868. Further, there is no historical analog that would constitutionally permit this complete impingement based solely on class status, rather than individualized cases of impairment. As such, this Court should find that there is no adequate constitutional basis under Bruen to prevent and prohibit medical cannabis patients from the right to carry and bear arms.

Regardless of where one stands on one’s own personal choice of whether or not to consume marijuana, support for other’s rights to make that choice is important. It aligns with the personal choice that each individual makes on whether or not to exercise their right to keep and bear arms. There’s consistency here, and it’s good to see a non-Second Amendment group stepping in to support the Second Amendment.

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