With the Supreme Court striking down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (“PASPA”), the ruling opens the way for states to legalize sports betting. In wake of the ruling, many news organizations have been quick to compare how this ruling might affect future state legalization of cannabis. While on the surface the legal posture on each issue appears to share commonalities, the legislative differences mean this decision offers no route to state cannabis legalization.
To understand the differences between the two legislative efforts, one must understand the difference between Federal statutory directions to state versus private actors. As the name suggests, state conduct refers to state actions while private conduct refers to the actions of individuals. PASPA controlled state conduct, forbidding states from legalizing sports betting. The Supreme Court ruling on PASPA rested on the “anti-commandeering” principle, which dictates the Federal government is constitutionally precluded from dictating state conduct. Since there are no Federal statutes that contain a prohibition for private conduct on sports betting, legislatively state legalization on sports betting will face no impediment.
In the case of cannabis, there are multiple Federal laws that make private cannabis-related conduct illegal, rendering the PASPA legislative ruling fundamentally different. Due to these multiple Federal laws prohibiting cannabis-related private conduct, even if states move to authorize legislation legalizing cannabis-related private conduct, Federal criminal laws would still prohibit its criminal use.

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