Over the past decade, voters and legislatures have moved to legalize the possession of marijuana under state law. Some have limited these reforms to the medicinal use of marijuana, while others have not. Despite these reforms marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Although the Justice Department has not sought to preempt or displace state-level reforms, the federal prohibition casts a long shadow across state-level legalization efforts. This federal-state conflict presents multiple important and challenging policy questions that often get overlooked in policy debates over whether to legalize marijuana for medical or recreational purposes. Yet in a “compound republic” like the United States, this federal-state conflict is particularly important if one wishes to understand marijuana law and policy today. This brief essay is the introductory chapter to Marijuana Federalism: Uncle Sam and Mary Jane (Jonathan H. Adler ed., Brookings Institution Press, 2020), an edited volume that explores the legal and policy issues presented by the federal-state conflict in marijuana law. It provides an overview of the relevant issues and a survey of the remaining chapters in the volume.


marijuana, federal law, federalism

Publication Date


Document Type


Place of Original Publication

Marijuana Federalism: Uncle Sam and Mary Jane

Publication Information

Our Federalism on Drugs, in Marijuana Federalism: Uncle Sam and Mary Jane (Jonathan H. Adler ed., 2020)


COinS Jonathan Adler Faculty Bio