While marijuana remains illegal at the federal level in the United States, state-level efforts to legalize cannabis have gained enormous momentum in recent years. The federal government, which possesses only limited power to stop this trend, has responded by grudgingly allowing such efforts to proceed, maintaining that its inaction on the issue comports with the international drug control regime. This presents a particularly complex problem for international policymakers and legal scholars, who worry that this state–federal conflict may render international drug treaties meaningless. This Note argues that the federal government’s strategy is a productive lens through which to view an international treaty regime that must change to survive. If state-level cannabis experiments are too far along to rein in and the federal government lacks the power or motivation to stop them, the conventional wisdom is that the treaties will diminish. This Note challenges that misconception and assesses practical transnational dimensions of US state-level cannabis activity, including human rights arguments and sovereignty questions applied to the treaties governing international drug policy. In light of the strict text of the drug control treaties and the accelerating pace of state-level initiatives, preserving the international drug treaties demands a “creative reading” of their text alongside a flexible interpretive schema. This Note seeks to articulate the benefits and limitations of such a novel reading.
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