Any development in constitutional law that relates to medical cannabis is a moment for us all to get our popcorn ready! There's certainly been some exciting action on that front in recent years, sometimes in ways you don't quite expect.
In May of 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court determined in a 7-2 decision that a federal law forbidding state and local governments from legalizing sports betting was unconstitutional.
The Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:
"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Because the Constitution doesn't specify the power of the federal government to regulate gambling, and because the Court found that existing federal law made states responsible for its enforcement, the Court ultimately ruled that the federal law in question violated an existing "anti-commandeering" doctrine, which holds that individual states are not required to actively enforce federal acts or regulations.
Going forward, all states in the US will now have the power to allow or ban sports gambling on their own terms, rather than be compelled by a federal law to prohibit it.
Because future high-profile cases related to cannabis may likely encounter arguments and scrutiny related to the Tenth Amendment, any legal or judicial development regarding the Tenth Amendment can foreshadow the future of cannabis in the United States, for both medical and for general adult use.
In this instance, we can breathe a sigh of relief!
If we're to extend the Supreme Court's logic to the matter of state-legal cannabis, then it stands to reason that the federal government does not have the power to compel states to pass laws forbidding possession or consumption of certain substances, or to compel states to enforce federal laws.
While the Controlled Substances Act would remain valid within the federal government's jurisdiction, it still stands to reason that the same principle that now applies to gambling could also apply to the matter of cannabis. As such, states would have the power to handle the legality of cannabis in the way they best see fit, and not be "commandeered" into enforcing the Controlled Substances Act or into passing similar state-level legislation that supports it.
Gambling's recent triumph foreshadows possible legal arguments in favor of relaxed cannabis laws, but we certainly can't ignore the economic potential of legalized sports betting, and its ability to generate tax revenue in individual states, and possibly at the federal level in the future. Maybe it's kind of a cynical question to ask, but since legal gambling inevitably stands to become a treasure trove of tax-eligible profits, was that just too rich an opportunity for the Court to reject?
Given that cannabis is already a multi-billion dollar industry despite its lack of federal recognition, do its bright economic prospects make it another domino to fall in a line of future anti-commandeering cases?
We'll see, and we'll keep our fingers crossed!