‘The Haymaker’ is Leafly Deputy Editor Bruce Barcott’s column on cannabis politics and culture.
So there’s this underground industry, see. Americans spend an estimated $150 billion on it every year. All but 3% of that commerce currently flows through illegal channels.
Some people consider the activity a vice. They say it’s addictive, it destroys families and ruins lives. But many other people say, Hey, this is something most adults can enjoy and handle in moderation. We’re not children. Why would you arrest us for enjoying this small bit of pleasure?
Some states want to bring it into the open—to legalize it, but limit it through well-controlled regulation. The federal government balks at this idea. Special interests have hired high-priced lawyers to fight it out in court.
I’m writing, of course, about sports betting.
For years, the state of New Jersey has been fighting the federal government and the major professional sports leagues for the right to legalize and regulate sports betting within the state’s hourglass-shaped borders.
In a landmark ruling published this morning, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with New Jersey. The federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, passed by Congress in 1992, banned wagering on professional and college sports. The Act also explicitly prohibited states from sponsoring or authorizing such gaming.
That language had always held New Jersey back. New Jersey officials first tried to legalize sports betting at casinos and race tracks in 2012. The NCAA, NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB promptly sued. The case has been tied up in the courts ever since. Lower courts generally held that proactively regulating sports betting clearly “authorized” the federally banned activity.
The U.S. Supreme Court saw it differently.
The 10th Amendment Is Strong
Citing the Constitution’s 10th Amendment, the court’s 7-2 majority affirmed that states are not required to enforce federal law. If the feds prohibit an activity, federal officers can enforce that ban. The states may choose to enforce that ban, too—but state officials are not required to enforce it.
The long-running case has a ponderously long name but will forever be known as Murphy v. NCAA. Phil Murphy inherited the title when he was sworn in as governor of New Jersey in January, and the NCAA just happens to be first in line among all the sports leagues battling to keep wagering illegal.
The implications for cannabis in Murphy v. NCAA are obvious and enormous. The idea that states are not required to carry out federal laws has always been a strong card in the hand of legalization proponents. But they’ve never had to actually play it, not like New Jersey just did—all the way to the Supreme Court, the final table.
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Published: May 14, 2018
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News