Wash. - The Justice Department's announcement in December
that it would allow the nation's Indian tribes to legalize
and regulate marijuana on their reservations brought notes
of caution - if not silence or opposition - from many
reluctant given the substance-abuse problems that already
plague many reservations.
attendance at a conference on the topic Friday gave an
early indication of just how many might be weighing it,
even if a thicket of potential legal issues remain.
of about 75 tribes from around the country converged on
the Tulalip Indian Tribes' resort and casino for a
$605-a-head seminar on the regulatory, legal and social
issues related to pot legalization.
small fraction of the nation's 566 recognized tribes. Many
attendees were from smaller tribes looking for a potential
great deal more are considering this than I thought would
be considering it," said Ken Meshigaud, chairman of
the Hannahville Indian Community, a band of the Potawatomi
Tribe on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. "From an
economic standpoint, it may be a good venture the tribes
can get into."
Vice Chairman Les Parks called it "a dream of another
point of self-sufficiency on our reservations."
what marijuana can do for us," he said.
have been wrestling with the idea since the U.S. Justice
Department announced that it wouldn't stand in their way
if they want to approve pot for medical or recreational
agency said tribes must follow the same law enforcement
priorities laid out for states that legalize the drug,
including keeping marijuana out of the hands of children
and criminal elements.
discussions are heating up: On Monday, about 200 tribal
leaders attended a meeting of the National Congress of
American Indians, which included a closed-to-the-press
panel discussion with Justice Department officials on
marijuana legalization, said Demitri Downing, a former
prosecutor for the Tohono O'odham tribe in southern
Arizona who now advises tribes on regulatory issues
related to pot.
also is on the agenda of a major tribal economic summit in
Las Vegas next month.
have to take a look at it," said Seth Pearman, an
attorney for the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe in South
Dakota. "The economic opportunity is just
astronomical — it would be almost negligent to miss out
tribal leaders already are drafting regulations for a
marijuana industry, and they toured some Washington state
dispensaries on their trip.
conference was organized by Robert Odawi Porter, a former
president of the Seneca Nation in New York, and Seattle
marijuana business attorneys Hilary Bricken and Robert
noted that difficult legal issues remain, especially
related to tribal sovereignty. About 17 states have some
criminal jurisdiction over tribal lands. If tribes are in
those states, and those states prohibit marijuana, tribal
members could face state criminal prosecution if they
legalize or regulate marijuana, he said.
tribes stressed they are proceeding cautiously and
reluctant to outpace changes in state marijuana laws. For
example, tribes might not want to legalize for
recreational use if it's illegal off-reservation, said
Chris Stearns, a Navajo and the chairman of the Washington
State Gambling Commission.
can sell to non-Indians, but the second they leave the
reservation they get arrested," Stearns said.
"That's not a great business model."
tribal council of the 3,200-member Hoopa Valley Tribe, in
Northern California's famed Emerald Triangle, has
requested recommendations from health, law enforcement and
other tribal officials to consider the consequences of
marijuana legalization, including whether it might
jeopardize federal aid for health care, fire services or
housing, said Councilman Brad Marshall.
tribes said they would first consider regulating cannabis
for medical use. They said they were intrigued about the
idea that making pot more accessible might help cut down
on abuse of methamphetamine or prescription drugs among
looking at what the benefits are, not only with revenue
but with the medical relief we can give to our
elders," said Lewis Taylor, chairman of the St. Croix
Tribe of Wisconsin.