Cladoosby: Tribes will revisit pot after feds’ ruling

William Keeney talks about the variety of cannabis plants he is raising at his marijuana growing facility on Thursday, Dec. 6, in Sedro-Woolley. Keeney, who owns Dank Dynasty, began growing marijuana as a medical marijuana producer, but has since transferred his business over to a fully commerical operation. Brandy Shreve / Skagit Valley Herald
William Keeney talks about the variety of cannabis plants he is raising at his marijuana growing facility on Thursday, Dec. 6, in Sedro-Woolley. Keeney, who owns Dank Dynasty, began growing marijuana as a medical marijuana producer, but has since transferred his business over to a fully commerical operation. Brandy Shreve / Skagit Valley Herald


By Mark Stayton, Skagit Valley Herald


Newly licensed marijuana business owners could find themselves with some unexpected competition.

A new federal policy on pot has opened new business options for Native Americans, and the Swinomish are ready to take a look.

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community will consider the possibilities at a meeting the first week of January, said Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby, following a policy statement recently released by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“We haven’t had an intelligent discussion on it,” said Cladoosby. “It’s definitely something we’d like to look into.”

Meanwhile, marijuana business owners recently licensed under the state Initiative 502 wonder what the impacts will be if marijuana is grown or sold on tribal land, outside of the state-managed system that created a limited number of permits for different processing and retail operations.

Skagit County’s first recreational weed retail store opened in September after the owners were chosen in a lottery that included many months of wrangling for permits and approvals.

“I would think it would negatively impact my business,” said William Keeney, owner of Dank Dynasty, a small marijuana producer and processor in Sedro-Woolley that opened less than two months ago. “I would think that’s going to be hard to compete with.”

A memorandum from the Justice Department has opened the door for Native American tribes seeking to grow and sell marijuana on tribal lands, provided they follow federal guidelines adopted by states that have legalized it.

Priorities for U.S. attorneys listed in the memorandum centered on prevention of serious marijuana-related threats such as trafficking, the funding of gangs and cartels, drugged driving and violence.

The potential for revenue, as well as public health hazards, will need to be assessed by each tribe individually, said Cladoosby, who is also president of the National Congress of American Indians and president of the Association of Washington Tribes.

Cladoosby said the potential for millions if not billions of dollars in revenue might be possible for tribes in Washington alone. Swinomish tribal leaders will review the situation at an upcoming meeting and seek legal advice, he said.

“Even though the state had legalized (marijuana), it is still illegal in tribes. Now we will re-evaluate that to see if that’s something we want to reverse course on,” Cladoosby said.

However, the potential for substance abuse could be a dissuading factor for many tribes, Cladoosby said.

“Native Americans statistically have the highest rates of drug and alcohol abuse of any sector of society,” Cladoosby said. “It’s a tough call for tribal leaders because of that problem.”

The Justice Department will deal with tribes on a case-by-case basis, said Justice spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle.

“Some tribes are very concerned with public safety implications, such as the impact on youths, and the use of tribal lands for the cultivation or transport of marijuana, while others have explored decriminalization and other approaches,” Hornbuckle said in an email.

“Each U.S. Attorney will assess the threats and circumstances in his or her district and consult closely with tribal partners and the Justice Department when significant issues or enforcement decisions arise in this area.”

However, the memorandum states it does not alter U.S. authority or jurisdiction to enforce federal law where marijuana is illegal under the Controlled Substance Act.

The state Attorney General’s Office said Wednesday that it does not consider marijuana legal on tribal lands in Washington but offered no further comment.

The original memorandum, issued by Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole on Aug. 29, 2013, allowed marijuana businesses and the state regulatory system to move forward without fear of federal reprisal, said Brian Smith, spokesman for the state Liquor Control Board.

“It was an assurance for us that we were on the right track, and it brought a sigh of relief from people in the industry, that if they started a business, the government would not swoop in and seize all their assets,” Smith said.

“We didn’t know, when we were building our system, that the federal government was not going to stop this on a dime.”

The Aug. 29 memorandum notes that “jurisdictions must provide necessary resources and willingness to enforce their laws and regulations in a manner that does not undermine federal enforcement priorities.”

If tribes do start growing and selling marijuana, the structure of the industry would determine impacts to businesses licensed under I-502.

Keeney said he would likely go out of business if tribes could sell on Washington’s marketplace at lower prices.

“If the tribes are allowed to do commerce with the state, we’ll probably have to pack it in. I don’t think we could compete with that. The market will become flooded,” Keeney said.

Nate Loving, owner of the Loving Farms retail marijuana store in Mount Vernon, said he believes in tribes’ right to grow and process on their own land, but was unsure how retail sales would be addressed.

“I think it’s a good deal if they want to grow on their own land. Why shouldn’t they be able to do it?” Loving said. “Being that (the Liquor Control Board) already allotted licenses, I don’t know if they’ll add extra stores. They have a set number of licenses.”

Smith said much is still unknown as to how tribal marijuana business would be regulated and which agency would be responsible for it, or how it would integrate with the state’s recreational marijuana system.

He said the board will first need to convene and talk with its attorneys before taking any other action.

“What the memo seems to say is the Cole Memorandum applies to tribal lands the same way it applies to the state. There’s a lot of moving parts that are involved with that,” Smith said. “I don’t think anyone has any or all of those answers yet. I think people were surprised it was as wide open as it was.”

5 Things To Know Before Washington Marijuana Stores Open

Legal recreational marijuana goes on sale for the first time in Washington on Wednesday.Brandan Schulze / USDA
Legal recreational marijuana goes on sale for the first time in Washington on Wednesday.
Brandan Schulze / USDA

Source: OPB


Tuesday will be the first day that Washington stores can legally sell recreational marijuana. Even though the state has been preparing for this day for nearly two years since it passed Initiative 502, it still could be unclear to some people exactly what the rules surrounding pot are.

Here are some answers to the biggest questions that will arise when pot officially goes on sale this week:

Who can buy marijuana and how much can they possess?

Anyone over the age of 21 can legally buy and consume cannabis in Washington. Yes, that includes non-Washingtonians too. The state’s Liquor Control Board, which is responsible for overseeing the implementation of I-502, says it plans to keep a close eye on retailers so the drug doesn’t end up in the hands of anyone underage. Stores selling marijuana even have to post signs saying that’s what their business does and no one under 21 is allowed to enter.

Adults who can legally buy marijuana can purchase up to 1 ounce of plant material or 72 ounces of marijuana-infused liquid, such as oils. It’s also legal to buy as much as 16 ounces of edible pot products, such as cookies or brownies, but officials at the state Liquor Control Board say no vendors in the state have yet obtained all of the licenses necessary to sell edibles — so, they won’t be in stores initially.

Where will marijuana be on sale?

The state issued 24 licenses to retailers across the state on Monday. WLCB officials alerted the stores via email early in the morning that they could begin receiving product from growers. More stores should receive their licenses on a rolling basis after Monday. The state has said it plans to issue a maximum of 334 store licenses in the first year, and has compiled a list of lottery winners for those permits.

Of the nearly 200 stores in Seattle that applied for a license, only one — Cannabis City — received approval Monday morning. State officials say that’s because many stores there simply failed to meet licensing requirements in time. Customers near Puget Sound will also have options available in Bellevue and Tacoma. Elsewhere in the state, stores could open as soon as Tuesday in Bellingham, Kelso and Spokane. The full list of retailers who received the state’s first licenses is available online.

Locally, two stores in  Vancouver made the licensee list and will open their doors to customers this week: Main Street Marijuana and New Vansterdam. The Columbian reports that the former plans to open its doors to customers on Wednesday after a ribbon cutting ceremony with Mayor Tim Leavitt. They want to open their doors around 11 a.m. New Vansterdam is shooting for grand opening on Friday.

Where is it legal to use marijuana?

This is an area where it’d be easy for marijuana users to run afoul of the law. I-502 makes it illegal to consume pot in public view. That means no visits to nearby parks, no smoking in your vehicle, and definitely no sampling product inside a marijuana retailer. The Seattle Police Department gives a good rule of thumb and describes it like open alcohol container laws. Basically, don’t use pot anywhere you’re not specifically allowed to do so. You may not get arrested just for public consumption, but you can receive a fine.

And while we’re on the topic of consumption, Oregonians and other out-of-staters should be aware that crossing state lines with Washington pot isn’t legal. I-502 does allow residents of other states to buy cannabis, but it has to be consumed in the state. If you try to take pot out of Washington, expect to face the penalties for drug possession in whatever state you enter.

Will legal marijuana be cheaper than stuff on the black market? 

No, at least not initially. Supply is still pretty limited in the state, which means that demand — aka prices at the register — are probably going to be steep.

So, what kind of prices can users expect in the early days? That’s likely to vary from store to store. Ramsey Hamide, manager of Main Street Marijuana in Vancouver, told the Columbian he expects initial prices on their shelves to be “maybe $90 to $100 for a 4-gram bag and $45 to $50 for a 2-gram bag.”

But Hamide also said he expects those prices to go down to near street costs in the weeks and months after the first sales as growers throughout the state begin to meet demand.

Does I-502 change state DUI laws?

It’s still illegal to drive while under the influence of marijuana or any other intoxicant. If you get pulled over by an officer, they can conduct a field sobriety test on you to see if you’re intoxicated. Because there aren’t yet any fancy tools  — such as a Breathalyzer for alcohol — to figure out if you’re high, the officers can take you back to the station and seek your permission for a blood test if they think you’re driving high. That goes for medical marijuana too. And if a driver gets in an accident while driving high, those blood tests are mandatory.

Much like Washington’s blood alcohol content limit of 0.08, anyone caught with a blood concentration greater than 5 nanograms of THC (the active compound in marijuana) will be given a citation for driving under the influence.

Other questions

There are lots of questions that aren’t answered by this list. The sale of recreational pot is relatively uncharted water in the U.S., and the legalization in Washington is different in many ways to the legalization in Colorado. The best source for answers to questions on pot sales in the state is the Liquor Control Board’s website.