Today: 19.06.2018
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Why states should be able to legalize pot and gambling.

As a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, Chris Christie promised to stop states like Colorado from legalizing marijuana. As governor of New Jersey, Christie insists the federal government has no business stopping his state from legalizing sports betting — an argument that got a mostly friendly reception at the Supreme Court on Monday. The...
Time: 19:52     Date: 05.12.2017
Last US News - Opinion: Why states should be able to legalize pot and gambling. NY Post 24 - US News

The most likely explanation for Christie’s situational federalism is that he doesn’t mind if people bet on sports but cannot abide pot smoking. But there’s a legal rationale for Christie’s apparent inconsistency, and it says a lot about the extent to which the federal government has usurped powers the 10th Amendment reserves to the states.

Christie is challenging the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992 statute that says states may not “authorize by law” any form of betting on athletic contests. Intended to “stop the spread of legalized gambling on sports events,” it exempted Nevada, which had legalized sports betting in 1949, and three states with sports lotteries.

The bill also allowed New Jersey to establish regulated sports betting in Atlantic City, provided state legislators acted within a year. They missed that deadline, but they finally passed a law in 2012, the year after New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment authorizing it.

Several sports leagues and the NCAA successfully challenged New Jersey’s law under PASPA. In 2014, the state legislature tried again, selectively repealing New Jersey’s ban on sports betting so that it no longer applied at casinos and racetracks.

The US Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit said the selective repeal was tantamount to licensing and therefore unlawful. The appeals court rejected New Jersey’s argument that requiring it to maintain the ban on sports betting amounts to unconstitutional “commandeering” of state officials in the service of a federal policy goal.

The Supreme Court was much more receptive to that claim on Monday, when at least five justices seemed inclined to agree that PASPA impermissibly intrudes on state prerogatives. It’s well established that Congress has no authority to dictate the content of state laws.

So Congress could’ve imposed its own ban on sports betting, just as it imposed its own ban on marijuana, in which case any state law inconsistent with that prohibition would be pre-empted. As Olson noted, the issue of pre-emption is “in play right now” because marijuana has been legalized for medical use in 29 states, eight of which also allow recreational use.

While merely eliminating state penalties for marijuana offenses doesn’t violate the Controlled Substances Act, licensing marijuana suppliers arguably does. That might be what Christie had in mind when he promised to “crack down and not permit” marijuana legalization if elected president. “Marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law,” Christie told radio host Hugh Hewitt in 2015, “and the states should not be permitted to sell it and profit from it.”

Can it really be true that the Constitution allows federal interference with state policy as long as Congress frames it as pre-emption rather than a “direct command”? Only if you accept the Supreme Court’s implausible understanding of the power to “regulate commerce . . . among the several states,” which supposedly authorizes Congress to prohibit sports betting, cannabis consumption and pretty much anything else it doesn’t like, even if those activities never cross state lines.

A properly constrained federal government would leave sports betting in New Jersey to New Jersey and cannabis consumption in Colorado to Colorado. As it is, we are left to argue over the form of federal meddling rather than its substance.

Opinion

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Opinion

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Living

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Business

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Metro

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Sport

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