On Thursday October 28, 2014 the Department of Justice issued the following statement that paves the way for recreational marijuana sales on tribal lands. It received very little publicity, despite the fact that the potential and far ranging impact is enormous because now tribes can sell marijuana legally even in states where it isn’t.
Policy Statement Regarding Marijuana Issues in Indian Country
On October 28, 2014, the Department of Justice issued a Policy Statement Regarding Marijuana Issues in Indian Country, to all United States Attorneys. With a number of states legalizing marijuana for use and production, some tribes have requested guidance on the enforcement of the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) on tribal lands by the United States Attorneys’ offices. With these requests in mind, the Attorney General’s Native American Issues Subcommittee has reviewed the Memorandum from the Deputy Attorney General, dated August 29, 2013, regarding marijuana enforcement (“Cole Memorandum”) and considered its impact on Indian Country. Indian Country includes numerous reservations and tribal lands with diverse sovereign governments, many of which traverse state borders and federal districts. Given this, the United States Attorneys recognize that effective federal law enforcement in Indian Country, including marijuana enforcement, requires consultation with our tribal partners in the districts and flexibility to confront the particular, yet sometimes divergent, public safety issues that can exist on any single reservation.
What Does This Decision Mean?
I happen to live in Washington where recreational marijuana is legal. There are many tribal casinos and here people regularly go to the reservations for cheaper cigarettes, liquor and fireworks as well as to use the casinos. Because the state has imposed a 25% tax on recreational marijuana prices are high.
If the tribes decide to jump into the marijuana game, the impact on sales of Washington’s marijuana shops could be huge. It would be very easy to undersell the state pot shops and as mentioned tribal lands here are popular recreational destinations for many residents here.
At present only 3 tribes have expressed an interest. They have not been named, but one is in California, one in Washington and one in the Midwest. I am sure the issue will come up for discussion at tribal meetings and the revenue source will be hard to ignore.
Some tribes may want to steer clear because they are already struggling with high alcohol and drug abuse problems, and they will see this as another bad problem for them. Others will certainly take advantage of this opportunity though and this is where things get really interesting.
Because they are sovereign nations they can elect to sell marijuana even in states where marijuana is illegal. In Florida, for example, the battle to legalize medical marijuana continues. But getting recreational weed may become as simple as driving to a nearby casino. Already anti- pot activists are crying foul.
“This has nothing to do with medicine, this has to do with the commercialization of marijuana,” said Kevin A. Sabet, director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida, who is opposed to marijuana legalization. “If you live 10 minutes away from a reservation, you could be living 10 minutes away from a pot shop.” http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/stateroundup/indian-tribes-may-legalize-marijuana-feds-say/2210091
The big takeaway from all this is that many states may decide to legalize marijuana rather than watch the revenue go to Indian Tribal Nations. There are 36 states with federally recognized tribal territories and in those states this could be the biggest cash boom since casinos.
On the pro side of things:
Seattle attorney Anthony Broadman, whose firm represents tribal governments throughout the West, said the announcement represents a “potential for an enormous economic development tool here.
“If tribes can balance all the potential social issues, it could be a really huge opportunity,” Broadman said. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/justice-dept-allows-indian-tribes-to-grow-and-sell-pot-on-tribal-land/
Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group- said if handled properly legalization would mean revenue and jobs for the Indian reservation.
“Regulating and taxing marijuana like alcohol would ensure the product is controlled, and it would bring significant revenue and new jobs to these communities,” Tvert told US News.
This will be something that will be very interesting to watch unfold and it may actually pave the way for even more states to legalize marijuana.