By The News Service of Florida
A former Florida Department of Corrections officer has gone to the state Supreme Court in a dispute about his firing for using medical marijuana. An attorney for former officer Samuel Velez Ortiz filed a notice last week that is a first step in challenging a June 21 decision by a panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal that upheld the firing.
Velez Ortiz, who was approved by a doctor to use medical marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder related to previous military service, failed a random drug test in 2021, ultimately leading to his firing under the department’s “zero tolerance” policy.
He challenged the firing and took the dispute to the 1st District Court of Appeal after the state Public Employees Relations Commission backed the dismissal. The three-judge panel of the appeals court pointed to marijuana being illegal under federal law and said Velez Ortiz would be committing a felony by using marijuana and possessing a gun. It said correctional officers, in part, are required to qualify with firearms and be able to be issued guns in situations such as prison riots.
“Because Mr. Velez Ortiz uses medicinal marijuana to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder, he is a regular user of marijuana,” said the ruling, written by Judge Clay Roberts and joined by Judges Stephanie Ray and M. Kemmerly Thomas. “Although he can legally possess and use medicinal marijuana under state law, his use of it is illegal under federal law. Accordingly, he cannot lawfully possess a firearm. Each time he does, he is committing a felony. And each year, he is required to possess a firearm to qualify. As a result, he is violating his requirement to maintain good moral character, which is required to keep his correctional officer certification.”
An order issued Monday said proceedings at the Supreme Court will be on hold until the 1st District Court of Appeal rules on a motion by Velez Ortiz for a rehearing.