How States are Able to Legalize Marijuana

Regardless of whether or not marijuana is legal at the Federal level, states have the right to make their own laws regarding the substance. The tenth amendment of the Constitution of the United States assures that states have powers not previously delegated to the Federal government. In the case of the regulation of marijuana, that means something very specific.



Levels of Law Enforcement

States are able to implement laws that allow citizens to use marijuana, while also setting limits on the use. This would mean that no state, city, or county officer would impose Federal laws on citizens when those laws conflict with state, city, or county laws. However, Federal officers may impose those laws just as city, state, and county laws may be enforced when they conflict with state laws. Consider the scenario below.

Steve lives in a state that allows recreational use of marijuana. However, his city has banned marijuana from being within 300 yards of a school. Federal officers can file charges on Steve, but the state can’t. At the same time, the city can file charges if the marijuana is within 300 yards of a school.


Changing State Laws

The democratic process allows for citizens or representatives to change, add, or remove state laws, depending on how the specific state operates. Some states allow for direct popular vote to be the deciding factor while others rely only on representatives who may or may not follow the wishes of popular vote. The steps are briefly outlined below and may vary by state.

  1. A member of the Senate drafts a bill. This may be because a citizen drafted a bill and collected signatures for a petition to put the bill into action or because the Senator did it of his or her own volition.
  2. The Senator introduces the bill.
  3. The bill moves to a committee to be modified, left alone, or passed along.
  4. The Senate votes on the bill and may modify it before the vote.
  5. The bill moves to the House.
  6. The House may make changes to the bill, in which case, the bill returns to the Senate for approval or modification.
  7. The House votes on the bill.
  8. The bill (now an Act) may be put to popular vote or passed along to the governor to sign into action or veto.
  9. The House may override the governor’s veto with a 2/3 majority vote.
  10. Once the bill becomes an Act and the Act passes through the various channels, the Act goes into effect.


If you are interested in helping your state legalize marijuana, or you have other legal concerns you would like to address, call the Federal Criminal Law Center at 404-633-3797 or visit the Federal Criminal Law Center website.