DOJ Okays Marijuana Sales on Tribal Lands

By Victoria Kim 12/16/14

Despite the Justice Department allowing the sale of weed on Native American land, many tribes are saying no thanks to the offer.

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The U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday that Native American tribes can grow and sell marijuana, as long as they follow the same federal rules established for states that have legalized the drug, like Washington and Colorado.

The three-page memo said U.S. Attorneys should not prosecute Native Americans for growing and selling marijuana on tribal lands, even in states where the drug is illegal.

Some marijuana advocates tout the potential for a rich new business on reservations that could provide tribes with an economic boost the way casinos and tobacco sales have in the past, but others are wary and suspicious of the Justice Department’s surprising directive.

Many tribes oppose legalization, and only a handful—three that have not been identified—have expressed interest, according to Oregon U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall.

“For me, it’s a drug. My gut feeling is we’re most likely going to shoot it down,” said Oglala Sioux Councilwoman Ellen Fills the Pipe, chairwoman of the council’s Law and Order Committee. The South Dakota tribe rejected a proposal this year to allow marijuana.

Tribes are likely to proceed carefully, however, as they do not want to exacerbate the existing drug and alcohol problems in Native American communities, according to former Klamath Tribes chairman Jeff Mitchell of Oregon.

“I’d rather see the guys on the reservation hooked on marijuana than hooked on alcohol,” said Ron Andrade, executive director of the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission. But he does not trust that the Justice Department’s directive was well-intentioned. Instead, Andrade believes it is possibly an underhanded way for authorities to have a reason to interfere on tribal land.

“It’s like the medical marijuana clinics here in California,” he said. “Yeah, you can have one, but we’ll still arrest you.” He told the LA Weekly that he expects any tribal lands that begin growing or selling marijuana will soon be beset by undercover agents and police activity.

“Talk is cheap,” he said. “And we should be used to that after 300 years, but some tribal leaders still think they’re going to hear the truth. Well, they’re not.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr