KESHENA, Wis. — Members of the Menominee Indian Tribe have endorsed the possible legalization of marijuana for medicinal and recreational use on their northeastern Wisconsin reservation, the tribe announced Friday.
In what tribal leaders called an advisory vote, about 77 percent of members voting said they backed medical marijuana. The vote was closer on recreational use, with about 58 percent of voting members saying yes.
Chairman Gary Besaw said tribal legislators will now study whether to move forward on both issues. He didn’t have a timetable for how quickly that might happen.
The Justice Department announced in 2014 it would let Indian tribes legalize and regulate marijuana, but most tribes have been reluctant to move forward with the new freedom for concern about possible public safety and health consequences. Besaw said the Menominee “have to be cautious.”
“This is all new ground we’re breaking,” Besaw said. “It’s hard to get definitive answers.”
Asked whether the tribe would consider commercial sales — selling marijuana to non-members — Besaw said only that the tribe would defer to the U.S. attorney’s office in Wisconsin in interpreting the Justice Department’s 2014 memorandum. In South Dakota, where the Flandreau Santee Sioux has announced plans to develop a pot-selling operation, the U.S. attorney has warned that non-Indians would be breaking the law if they consume pot on the reservation.
Greg Haanstad, the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, had no comment, a spokeswoman said.
Besaw noted the easier vote on medicinal marijuana.
“People more clearly understand the benefit of medicinal marijuana,” Besaw said. “Even those who voted no on the recreational have said … we know there is value in medicinal marijuana and there clearly are individuals who benefit from it.”
Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said in a statement he was disappointed in the tribe’s vote, saying eventual legalization could pose “serious challenges for law enforcement.”
About 13 percent of the tribe’s 9,000 members cast ballots.
The possibility comes on the heels of the tribe’s unsuccessful effort to open a casino in Kenosha.
WASHINGTON — Tourists soon may be able to go to a South Dakota Indian reservation, buy a cigarette-sized marijuana joint for $10 to $15 and try their luck at the nearby casino.
In December, the Flandreau Santee Siouxexpect to become the first tribe in the nation to grow and sell pot for recreational use, cashing in on the Obama administration’s offer to let all 566 federally recognized tribes enter the marijuana industry.
“The fact that we are first doesn’t scare us,” said tribal president Anthony “Tony” Reider, 38, who’s led the tribe for nearly five years. “The Department of Justice gave us the go-ahead, similar to what they did with the states, so we’re comfortable going with it.”
The tribe plans to sell 60 strains of marijuana. Reider is hoping for a flock of visitors, predicting that sales could bring in as much as $2 million per month.
“Obviously, when you launch a business, you’re hoping to sell all the product and have a shortage, like Colorado did when they first opened,” he said.
Other tribes have been much more hesitant.
“Look at Washington state, where marijuana’s completely legal as a matter of state law everywhere, and you still have tribes adhering to their prohibition policies,” said Robert Odawi Porter, former president of the Seneca Nation of New York.
It comes as no surprise to Washington state Democratic Rep. Denny Heck, who says he works on tribal issues every day.
“Not once has anybody ever brought up that they wanted to go down this track,” he said.
Heck speculated on one possible reason: “We’re all aware of the painful history of alcoholism in Indian Country.”
Tribes won the approval to sell pot in December, when the Justice Department said it would advise U.S. attorneys not to prosecute if tribes do a good job policing themselves and make sure that marijuana doesn’t leave tribal lands.
But federal prosecutors maintain the discretion to intervene, a worrisome prospect for many.
“This administration is very pro-tribes, very supportive. What if the next one isn’t?” asked W. Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe in Washington state.
He said many of the state’s 29 tribes also want assurances from federal officials that they won’t lose millions of dollars in grants and contracts if they sell a drug banned by Congress.
“We’re not getting definitive answers back,” Allen said. “There’s a number of tribes that are very aggressively looking into it and trying to sort through all the legal issues. The rest of us are just kind of on the sidelines watching.”
Trueblood said marijuana could give tribes an economic boost, much like gaming. He said tribes will have the best opportunities in states such as Florida and New York, where demand for pot is high but the drug has not been legalized for recreational use by state voters.
“Ultimately, I think you’ll see legal marijuana in every state,” Trueblood said. “I think that’s fairly inevitable, even in very conservative places like Florida.”
Reider said his tribe plans to sell both medical and recreational marijuana. Minors will be allowed to consume pot if they have a recommendation from a doctor. Under a tribal ordinance passed in June, adults 21 and over will be able to buy one gram of marijuana at a time for recreational use, no more than twice a day.
“We really don’t want the stuff getting out to the street,” Reider said. “So we’re going to have like a bar setting where they’ll be able to consume small amounts while on the property.”
Kevin Sabet, president of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said the California raid shows that it’s still “an extremely risky venture” for any tribe to start selling marijuana. And he said pot sales would fuel more addiction.
“If we think alcohol has had a negative effect on young people on tribal lands, we ain’t seen nothing yet,” Sabet said.
As part of his homework, Reider said, he traveled to Colorado, the first state to sell recreational pot last year. He said he does not smoke marijuana but has concluded that it’s safer than alcohol, citing the behavior he witnessed at the Cannabis Cup, a marijuana celebration held in Denver in April.
“It was a peaceful environment,” he said. “Everybody was overly friendly, overly talkative to each other and respectful of each other. Where if you go to a concert where there’s a lot of alcohol, you typically see fights and arguments.”
Reider said the tribe plans to begin growing 6,000 marijuana plants in October and is renovating a bowling alley to house a new consumption lounge that will include four private rooms. He said the tribe may consider allowing marijuana consumption in its casino in the future.
Reider acknowledged that it’s “kind of an awkward feeling” to start selling pot, but he figures the tribe is well-equipped.
“When we started looking into it, it’s comical at first, but then you realize it’s an amazing business,” he said. “It’s highly regulated, and we’re used to the regulation from operating our casino. We’ve got security and surveillance.”
Reider said profits from pot sales will be used to help tribal members. He said that could include the construction of a facility for those addicted to alcohol, prescription drugs or methamphetamine.
“We don’t have a recovery treatment center on the reservation right now,” Reider said. “Potentially we could look to fund one of those operations, and not just for marijuana addiction.”
Read more here: http://www.sunherald.com/2015/07/29/6341934/indian-tribes-set-to-begin-marijuana.html#storylink=cpy
Former MHA Nation Tribal Chairman Tex Hall has joined a company focused on producing marijuana on reservations.
Native American Organics LLC will help tribes who want to enter the marijuana products industry set up legal growing and distribution systems. The company is a partnership between Hall’s Red Tipped Arrow LLC and Wright Family Organics LLC, a California-based medical marijuana research and operations company.
The company will work on regulation and compliance issues with tribes located in states where medical and recreational marijuana is legal, helping to break down barriers to entry. It will help tribes make law governing the industry on their reservations.
In December, the U.S. Department of Justice extended marijuana legalization rights to tribal governments and, earlier this month, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill allowing agreements with tribes related to marijuana regulation.
“Throughout my career, I have fought for advancement and sovereignty of Indian tribes,” Hall said in a statement. “And a lot of that time was focused on economic development because that is what our people need and deserve. As the legal and practical questions surrounding the participation of Indian tribes in the market continue to be settled, there is no doubt in my mind that tribes have a competitive advantage when it comes to cannabis production, processing and sale.”
Hall said revenues for the legal marijuana industry have reached $11 billion and are projected to reach $30 billion in the next four years.
“What really made an impact on me was the potential that cannabis has for healing and easing the pain of our people who suffer from PTSD across Indian Country. Not least among those who suffer are our veterans,” Hall said.
North Dakota tribes would not be among those eligible for Native American Organics’ services as marijuana use has not been legalized in the state. Though tribes do have the authority to produce on reservations, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault has said the tribe would be unable to transport the product off the reservation to sell.
At the very first Tribal Marijuana Conference held last weekend in Tulalip, WA, the former chairman of the Moapa Paiute tribe, William Anderson, tall and dignified and walking with a cane, explained to me what brought him: “I was just laying in bed in pain. I couldn’t get up, I couldn’t get up to go to the bathroom or go to the kitchen because I was in so much pain.”
An infection in his foot had spread to his spine and deteriorated the bone, exposing nerves. Doctors replaced the bone with titanium steel. For two years, the infection, even with prescription creams and antibiotics, kept coming back. The Indian Health Service recommended amputation of his foot.
“I just prayed to the Great Creator, ‘Please, help me with my pain. Please, help me get up so I can function as a normal human being.’”
Then he remembered a documentary he had seen years earlier about medical marijuana, and how it was used by cancer patients for pain relief. He ordered a topical cannabis ointment, and when he applied it he felt immediate relief.
The conference brought together some 75 tribal representatives, along with hundreds from the state and federal level in addition to cannabis industry leaders on the Tulalip tribe’s $200 million resort and casino in Washington state. This was in response to a Department of Justice memo directing US attorneys nationwide not to prosecute federally-recognized tribes conducting marijuana-related businesses on reservation land—so long as they meet nine criteria, including the prevention of criminal elements from profiting from marijuana sales, and keeping cannabis products away from minors.
While most of the presentations at the conference addressed the legal, infrastructural, and financial concerns of running a marijuana business on the reservation, Anderson’s story highlights the incredible medical needs faced by many tribal members.
Native Americans have the highest rates of high-risk drinking and suicide of any American ethnic group, according to research from the NIH and CDC, respectively. In the past two decades, opioid deaths and cancer rates have continued to climb. On Anderson’s reservation, tribal members’ health had been harmed by a coal power plant that blew coal ash through their community; its waste ponds poisoning their ground water. They fought back and shut down the plant, but this story is all too common throughout “Indian Country;” Native American communities pay a heavy price, both in regards to environmental and public health, for US energy development.
Amanda Reiman, manager of marijuana law and policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, assured tribal leaders at the conference that cannabis could actually help Native American communities battling addiction. A recent study (paywall) found that marijuana acts not as a “gateway drug,” as it is often characterized, but as a less harmful replacement for alcohol. In states that have legalized medical marijuana, the researchers found that the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities per year decreased by as much as 11%. It is estimated that, in the United States, alcohol-related deaths total 88,000 per year. The statistics are even more dire for Native American communities: nearly 11.7% of Native American deaths are alcohol-related, compared to 3.3% for all Americans.
Another study published just last year in JAMA Internal Medicine found that opioid mortality rates were lower by 25% in states that had legalized medical marijuana. Native Americans have seen opioid-related (prescription painkiller) deaths increase since 2000 to a rate that is 3 times that of African-Americans and Hispanics, according to the CDC. Nationally, these drugs now kill more people than car crashes.
As the medical establishment has reigned in opioid over-prescription, patients who had become addicted to painkillers have increasingly turned to heroin—once associated with big cities, but now a booming trade in poorer, rural areas. Last week, the Saginaw Chippewa tribe in Michigan banished two tribal members for trafficking in heroin. On Feb. 20, a couple from the Lummi tribe in Washington state were sentenced to prison for conspiracy to distribute heroin and methamphetamine.
“Heroin and methamphetamine trafficking has no place in any of our communities, least of all on tribal lands,” said acting US attorney for the Western district of Washington, Annette L. Hayes. “Last week I convened a heroin summit to focus community resources on battling what has become a growing epidemic of opioid abuse. I commend the work of our tribal partners, the Lummi, to lead in the effort to prevent heroin use and overdose deaths.”
Meanwhile, yet another study made headlines after finding marijuana to be 114 times less deadly than alcohol. Alcohol, followed by heroin and cocaine, was found to be the most dangerous recreational drug. Tobacco came in fourth, and cannabis a distant last.
With all the research and evidence regarding the safety and innocuousness of marijuana piling up, it is no wonder that the federal government has taken baby steps to revise its once harsh prohibition of the drug. For example, a US district judge in Sacramento, CA, heard the final arguments on Feb. 11 on a hearing regarding the constitutionality of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act that classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. This is the first reconsideration of the act’s claims that marijuana has “no accepted medical use”—a rather foolish assertion considering that that 23 states and the District of Columbia now permit the distribution and consumption of medical marijuana. She is expected to rule within the next week.
Still, many Native Americans, long used to fighting addiction in their communities, see the opportunity for the sale of marijuana on their lands as yet another Trojan horse delivered by the US government. They worry about its implementation.
Troy Eid, chair of president Obama’s Indian Law and Order Commission was cautious. “I think it is very good for tribes to look at and think about how they might want to influence changes in the federal law,” he said. “Having said that, there are no changes in federal law here. I can tell you as a former US attorney, the nine different criteria that they laid out are not sufficient to provide protections to tribes or tribal members, tribal citizens. So, you are really rolling the dice.”
For Native American communities, the issue of marijuana legalization represents both unique challenges and prospects for success. It hinges on careful negotiation with multiple federal agencies, from the DEA to the IRS. The unique relationship federally-recognized tribes have with the US as “domestic dependent nations”—a designation that recognizes both the inherent sovereignty of pre-existing indigenous nations, but also reflects the power of the US to limit the exercise of that sovereignty—is a careful dance that tribes have had to conduct with the most powerful nation in the world for decades; and this new opportunity may serve as a long-awaited chance to restructure that relationship, just as casino-gaming did a generation ago.
“This issue was a historic moment for the United States,” Robert Odawi Porter of Odawi Law PLLC, a former president of the Seneca Nation of New York, and one of the organizers of the conference explained to me, “and what the Justice Department did was to invite ‘Indian Country’ to have a historical moment. No different than any other major decision our ancestors have had to make. Tribal leaders are now going to have the same opportunity to think through whether legalizing marijuana was a good thing.”
The conference ended with tribal leaders agreeing to meet again in Las Vegas on Mar. 12 at the Reservation Economic Summit to vote on a charter for a new inter-tribal cannabis trade organization.
Douglas Berman, a presenter at the conference, and a professor of law at Ohio State University, noted, “There are relatively few industries with so many novel dimensions to it that haven’t already gotten commercialized to the point it is difficult for new players to enter.”
“I think tribes can be first to market here. I really do,” said Hilary Bricken, a cannabis attorney in Washington state, and another of the organizers of the conference. She urged tribes to consider entering the marijuana banking services industry. Although Bank of America has agreed to handle Washington state’s marijuana tax income, only small credit unions have taken on lending to legal, licensed marijuana businesses. A few tribes have gotten involved as payday lenders, but full realization of reservations as “off-shore banking” magnates on the mainland US has not yet occurred. A niche banking services market like marijuana could provide the impetus.
Les Parks, vice chairman of the Tulalip tribe’s board of directors, shared a video of a local Seattle television-news report on the medical marijuana extract CBD, which is used to relieve epileptic seizures and hold big dreams for tribes in the pharmaceutical industry. “We can lead this country in CBD drug development and be the next big pharmaceutical company,” he said.
A number of Native Americans came with cannabis company partners to the conference. William Anderson was one of them. He is working with Strainz, a medical cannabis products and services company.
“This cannot just be about making a quick buck, but about economic development and being more independent, not dependent on the government, which I don’t like but is unfortunately the reality for our people,” Anderson explained.
As a former tribal chairman, he’s had experience doing just that. Under his leadership, his tribe not only got rid of the coal plant, but opened the first solar plant on any reservation in the country, and has since been approved to build a second.
But in the end Anderson is a believer in the power of medical marijuana to help Native American people deal with chronic pain. “I’m really grateful to be here today, to just talk and to shake hands with people,” he said. “This is what I want to bring to Indian people out there. To show that there are other ways to get help.”
The first national Tribal Marijuana Conference will take place in nine days at the Tulalip Resort Casino in Quil Ceda Village, Washington and with interested parties already in attendance, Henry Cagey has announced a meeting to discuss forming a Tribal Cannabis Association to be held February 28.
Cagey, the former chair of the Lummi Nation and current council member, looks to take advantage of tribal leaders, executives, entrepreneurs, and Native health and social work professionals, and law enforcement personnel in attendance on February 27 to explore how tribes could work together to address marijuana development in their sovereign tribal territories.
Cagey’s meeting will be held in the same location as the Conference.
Medical marijuana is currently legalized in 23 states, is legal for persons over the age of 21 in four states, and legalized for recreational use in Washington and Colorado. The United States Department of Justice in October 2014 issued a “Policy Statement Regarding Marijuana Issues in Indian Country.” Within the statement, the DOJ addressed law enforcement concerns by stating it will continue its enforcement priorities “in the event that sovereign Indian Nations seek to legalize the cultivation or use of marijuana in Indian country.”
“I believe that the development of marijuana businesses in Indian country raises important issues that tribal leaders need to discuss,” Cagey said in a press release announcing the meeting.
Recently, reports surfaced that at least 100 tribes were exploring their options of growing medical marijuana with the Pinoleville Pomo Nation in California set to be the first tribe to begin cultivation according to an ICTMN story.
“We’ve been contacted by more than 100 tribes from coast to coast that want to get into the business in one way or another,” Barry Brautman, president of FoxBarry Companies, a group of Kansas-based operations that specialize in developing Native business enterprises, said.
The Conference and Cagey’s meeting appear to be arriving at just the right time for the surge in interest of a new economic train throughout Indian country.
“There exists enormous new market potential for commercial marijuana initiatives on Native lands,” Hilary Bricken, one of the foremost legal experts and premier cannabis business attorneys in the country, said when the Conference was announced. “This is an unparalleled opportunity for tribes to participate in a growing sector of commerce and diversify their economies, yet there is much to be considered to ensure successful implementation of tribal policy and law.”
“Given recent developments, we are excited to announce this historic opportunity for tribal leaders to gain a better understanding of the implications of marijuana legalization in their territories,” Robert Odawi Porter, Conference co-sponsor and organizer, a leading attorney in tribal sovereignty and treaty rights protections and former president of the Seneca Indian Nation, said. “We are bringing together some of the best, most experienced lawyers and commentators at the intersection of Indian law and marijuana law to share their experience in addressing the evolving issues surrounding recreational and medicinal marijuana usage in Indian country. Our goal is to pursue a balanced discussion of the important legal, business, social, and cultural questions that would inevitably affect Native societies were legalization to occur.”
Throughout the organization of the meeting, Cagey focused on certain topics that should be discussed, such as: setting policy on medicinal or recreational usage, the need to develop model tribal regulatory laws, defining protocols for tribal self-regulation and oversight, and establishing formal consultation with federal and state officials to support tribal sovereignty.
“The promise of substantial revenues that are coming from this will lure some tribes into it blindly,” Walter Lamar, president of Lamar Associates, a Native-owned consulting and professional services company, recently told ICTMN.
The meeting will be open to tribal government officials and representatives, tribal citizens and tribal attorneys at no charge, though registration is required to attend.
“Whether one supports legalization efforts or opposes them, there is much research and legal development that must be done. Tribes should work together whenever possible to protect our sovereignty and help our Native people,” Cagey said.
For more information on the Tribal Cannabis Association and to pre-register, contact: Megan Nord at email@example.com by phone at (206) 224-5657. Registration to attend this meeting ends on February 27, at 8 p.m.
The Pinoleville Pomo Nation in northern California’s Mendocino County is set to be the first tribe to grow and manufacture medical marijuana on tribal land.
The tribe has inked a deal to develop an indoors grow facility on its rancheria north of Ukiah.
“We anticipate construction to begin in early February, and operations to commence by the end of the month,” Barry Brautman, president of FoxBarry Development Company, LLC, told Indian Country Today Media Network.
FoxBarry Farms—a subsidiary of the Kansas-based firm, which partners with tribes on economic development projects ranging from farms to casinos—will help develop the “state-of-the-art greenhouses, as well as processing and office space,” Brautman said.
FoxBarry will additionally manage distribution of the medical marijuana and related products in the state. “Our first phase will include 90,000 feet of greenhouse space, and another 20,000 feet of indoor space,” Brautman said.
The operation will sell marijuana only for authorized medical users and dispensaries in accordance with California state law. Many anticipate California to join at least four other states in legalizing recreational use of marijuana next year.
FoxBarry has pledged $30 million to develop at least three medical marijuana facilities on tribal lands in northern, central and southern California. Brautman noted that FoxBarry has reached terms with one other Indian Nation, though he declined to identify the tribe at this time.
“Documentation is nearly complete,” Brautman said. “I anticipate that the operations for that tribe is 30-to-45 days behind Pinoleville.”
Colorado-based United Cannabis will offer consulting services to the FoxBarry-managed medical marijuana farms, particularly related to cultivation, harvesting, processing and sales of medical marijuana and medical marijuana-infused products. Under the licensing agreement, United Cannabis will receive $200,000 in prepaid royalties and 15 percent of net sales. In return, FoxBarry will have exclusive distribution rights to United Cannabis products in California.
“The project will be producing the full range of medical marijuana and medical marijuana-infused products under the licensing agreement with United Cannabis,” which will include leaves, flowers, hash, hash oil, medicinal pills, medicinal liquids/oils, and much more, Brautman said.
The products will contain various levels of the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and the non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD). “This includes many ‘inactive’ products,” he added.
While CBD has been widely touted for its medicinal benefits, particularly in reducing symptoms of intractable epilepsy, pot strains with higher levels of THC have proven effective in controlling the symptoms of autism in some children by stimulating brain cell signaling and reducing certain dysfunctions, reported the San Francisco Gate.
United Cannabis is also a supplier of the marijuana-derived Prana Bio Nutrient Medicinals, available in oil and pill form in micro doses. The medicine seeks to target patient aliments related to the central nervous system or the immune system, respectively.
Hemp—the non-psychoactive cannabis that can be used to make more than 25,000 products ranging from clothing to dynamite — may come into play in the future.
“We are talking with several tribes about industrial hemp, although our main priority is getting our grow op projects open and online,” Brautman said.
The, tribes of marijuana is a growing trend in discussions from Washington, D.C. to state government offices and most recently on tribal reservations. In February the subject matter will be placed front and center at a groundbreaking national conference focusing on legalization in Indian country.
The legalization of pot in Indian country came into focus as the federal government announced in 2014 that it would allow tribal nations to legalize marijuana on their reservations.
According to media reports, as of December there were only three tribes showing interest in entering the marijuana business. In a December ICTMN story, it was reported that it is always “a good thing anytime the federal government moves to let Indian nations control their own affairs.” But could marijuana legalization be too much of a good thing? This conference will hopefully help answer that question.
Tribal leaders, executives, entrepreneurs and Native health and social work professionals, and law enforcement personnel will be on hand to examine the legal, political and social policy implications of marijuana legalization in Indian country, as many tribal governments are already addressing the subject matter. The conference will be held February 27 at the Tulalip Resort Casino in Quil Ceda Village, Washington.
Odawi Law PLLC and Harris Moure, PLLC are co-sponsoring the conference to help “leaders in Indian country fully understand the wide-ranging issues associated with embarking on the development of tribal marijuana legislation and considerations of commercial marijuana cultivation, manufacture and distribution in tribal jurisdictions,” according to a press release.
Robert Odawi Porter, conference co-sponsor and organizer, is a leading attorney in tribal sovereignty and treaty rights protections and former president of the Seneca Indian Nation where he witnessed first-hand issues surrounding the selling of another plant based product – cigarettes.
Porter has witnessed a change in social attitudes towards marijuana use which is paving the way for the significant numbers of new legislation in states across the country.
“Given recent developments, we are excited to announce this historic opportunity for tribal leaders to gain a better understanding of the implications of marijuana legalization in their territories,” Porter said. “We are bringing together some of the best, most experienced lawyers and commentators at the intersection of Indian law and marijuana law to share their experience in addressing the evolving issues surrounding recreational and medicinal marijuana usage in Indian country. Our goal is to pursue a balanced discussion of the important legal, business, social, and cultural questions that would inevitably affect Native societies were legalization to occur.”
Medicinal marijuana is legal in 33 states, and legal for persons over the age of 21 in four states. Legalized recreational use, however, is currently in two states: Washington and Colorado. The United States Department of Justice in October of last year issued a “Policy Statement Regarding Marijuana Issues in Indian Country.” Within the statement, the DOJ addressed law enforcement concerns by stating it will continue its enforcement priorities “in the event that sovereign Indian Nations seek to legalize the cultivation or use of marijuana in Indian country.”
The Tribal Marijuana Conference is also co-sponsored and co-organized with on of the foremost legal experts and premier cannabis business attorneys in the country – Hilary Bricken. The cannabis attorney provides a wealth of knowledge and experience with marijuana regulations, including testifying in front of state and federal government panels.
“There exists enormous new market potential for commercial marijuana initiatives on Native lands,” Bricken said. “This conference will extract the regulations and the legal and policy issues that are in place to assist Native leaders as they consider the myriad possibilities before they begin to embark on a path of commerce involving cannabis. This is an unparalleled opportunity for tribes to participate in a growing sector of commerce and diversify their economies, yet there is much to be considered to ensure successful implementation of tribal policy and law.”
A Ukiah Indian rancheria will soon be the site of what is likely California’s first tribe-sanctioned, large-scale indoor medical marijuana cultivation and distribution operation.
The 250-member Pinoleville Pomo Nation revealed Thursday it has entered into a contract with Colorado-based United Cannabis and Kansas-based FoxBarry Farms to grow thousands of marijuana plants on its 99-acre rancheria just north of Ukiah.
It’s the first of three such operations planned in California by United Cannabis and FoxBarry, a sign that marijuana cultivation is making headway in its voyage from being an illegal backwoods venture to a mainstream business. The locations of the other two have yet to be revealed.
Construction on a 2.5-acre indoor marijuana-growing facility will begin within a month and operations are expected to be underway in February, according to a spokesman for the tribe.
“We are very excited about the relationship with United Cannabis and FoxBarry,” said Michael Canales, president of the tribe’s business board.
FoxBarry Farms, which also invests in and manages tribal casinos, will fund and operate the facility on the rancheria, Canales said. The tribe also owns 100 acres near Ukiah High School but only the rancheria is held in federal trust, which renders it largely free of local regulations. The tribe is seeking trust status for the additional 100 acres, Canales said. It also owns several acres on North State Street, north of Ukiah, where it is planning to build a casino.
No dispensary plans
FoxBarry’s president, Barry Brautman, said he’s not certain how many plants will be grown at the new cannabis facility but expects there to be “thousands” growing year-round.
“We’re harvesting every day. Everything’s on a big rotation,” he said.
The marijuana grown on the rancheria will be distributed only to medical marijuana card-holding members and dispensaries, in keeping with state law, Brautman said.
“Our business model involves doing everything legally and by the book,” he said.
There currently is no plan for a dispensary at the site, Brautman said.
The 110,000-square-foot facility will cost about $10 million to build and will employ 50 to 100 people, most of them local residents, he said.
“There are a lot of people who know what they’re doing in this county” when it comes to marijuana cultivation, Brautman noted.
The workforce also will include security guards to patrol the fenced facility, Brautman said.
The Pinoleville facility will be growing award-winning, brand-name pot developed by United Cannabis, a marijuana research and development company, Brautman said.
“The vast research and science behind their development are what differentiate us from everyone else in this business,” he said.
Deal been in works
United Cannabis and FoxBarry recently entered an agreement under which FoxBarry will exclusively distribute United Cannabis branded marijuana products in California, he said.
The partnership with the tribe follows a U.S. Department of Justice announcement last month that tribes — which are sovereign nations — have the authority to legalize marijuana on lands that are held for them in federal trust. But the deal has been in the works for much longer, about a year, Brautman said.
He said FoxBarry’s attorneys already believed that tribes had the authority to set up such operations. The Justice Department’s statement confirmed their opinions, he said.
“Those laws and interpretations are not new,” Brautman said.
Ukiah Police Chief Chris Dewey said Thursday that he doesn’t know any of the specifics of the project but has some concerns in general about marijuana-growing operations.
“My most important issue would be that we safeguard people. We’ve had a number of home-invasion robberies in our valley,” he noted.
Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman could not be reached Thursday for comment.
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.
“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.”
While a patchwork of state laws have given marijuana quasi-legal status in 24 states, status on many tribal lands remains prohibited, or at best uncertain. Many tribes are content to adhere to federal prohibitions, but in PL 83-280 states (notably Washington, with legal recreational use), some are considering or even embracing the economic development potential of growing and distributing marijuana.
In general, medical marijuana laws have not been recognized on tribal lands, with some tribal members even facing exile for using state-licensed cannabis on their reservations. Many non-tribal members have also been cited for possession on the reservation, and although some legal experts hold that jurisdiction is unclear, the Salt River Maricopa-Pima Indian Community has successfully defended impounding cars of card-holding medical marijuana patients. Other tribes have requested their state’s licensing authority not to permit dispensaries near reservation boundaries.
Tribes in most states—including Colorado, where recreational use is also legal—follow federal law on marijuana use, possession, production and distribution. While some at the Ute Mountain Ute reservation have recommended initiating community discussion on the topic, the Southern Ute have come out very strongly against adhering to Colorado’s recreational marijuana laws.
The fact of the matter is that tribes have experienced more harm than good by illegal growing, cartel activity, and children being endangered by adult use or being recruited into gangs. Other tribal leaders cite problems with allowing marijuana in Indian Country such as losing subsidies for low income housing and BIA funding; IHS and tribal health services capacity strained by already high rates of drug and alcohol abuse; adding a burden to tribal law enforcement departments, courts and other agencies; and loss of employment due to failing drug tests. This last could spell big problems for recruiting and retaining a number of public trust positions, such as firefighters and police officers.
Those who support tribes’ participation in legal marijuana programs point to traditional uses for cannabis, economic development potential, reduced rates of prescription drug overdoses, and lifting the burden of patrol, monitoring, detention and probation from tribal public safety agencies. What advocates don’t want to discuss is the increase in specific risks involving children, particularly increased hospitalizations due to edibles, diversion from family members, and children perceiving marijuana use as “safe.”
Troy Eid, chair of the federally commissioned Indian Law and Order Commission acknowledges the dangers—especially for already at-risk Native youth—but argues that tribes should have the option to opt out of the federal system in order to resolve the jurisdictional “chaos that exists today.” He points out that some of the confusion came from both the Colorado and Washington laws being passed by voter initiatives, and so were without tribal consultation. In an interview with Time Magazine, he also made the argument for pursuing economic development: “The tribes are going to be left behind, because there’s been no change in state law that applies to them … These are some of the poorest areas in the country. They could be involved in this business as well, but instead they’re being prohibited from being part of what’s happening.”
Washington tribes may end up establishing precedent for a thoughtful approach to establishing marijuana laws that suit the needs of the community. Yakama has not only come out strongly against allowing recreational or medical use, but has extended its ban to all the tribe’s ceded territory, and the Washington State Liquor Control Board is automatically denying grow or distribution applications within the disputed area. Likewise, most of the tribes on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula are upholding federal law, in part because of strong community commitment to drug abuse prevention, and in part because of prohibitions on adjacent National Park Service and Forest Service lands.
On the other hand, the Pullayup have aligned their tribal criminal code with the Washington State code to permit recreational marijuana use, and several retail outlets have opened in and nearby tribal lands. The Suquamish have approached the state about permitting sales by the tribe and tribal business, but the state is seeking federal guidance before considering the application. The S’Klallam initially came out strongly against it, but are now taking a “wait and see” approach.
The Department of Justice is busy trying to sort these problems out as well. In a 2013 memo to all U.S. Attorneys, Deputy Attorney General James Cole points out several concerns that translate into public safety priorities, which should concern local police as much as federal law enforcement. These priorities include preventing distribution to minors; revenue from going to cartels and gangs; other drug trafficking under the guise of “legal” distribution; environmental degradation by illegal grow operations; possession where prohibited; violence and the use of firearms in cultivation or distribution; and drugged driving.
From initial statistics in Colorado, the state laws have been completely ineffective at preventing distribution to minors or preventing possession where prohibited, including neighboring states, public lands, and tribal areas as far away as South Dakota. Tribes are wise not to let the dollar signs blind them to the potential public safety, health and other issues that allowing marijuana use might bring, until all the Attorney General’s concerns are appropriately addressed. Finally, no matter what decisions the federal government ultimately makes regarding marijuana regulation, all governments should be respectful of individual tribes who wish to prohibit the drug on their lands. As Harry Smiskin, Yakama Nation Chairman said, ” I cannot tell you what to do on state lands in Seattle or elsewhere — I can tell you how it is going to be on Yakama Lands. The use of marijuana is not a part of our culture or religions or daily way of life. Nor is it one of our traditional medicines. Please respect our lands and our position.”
Walter Lamar, Blackfeet/Wichita, is a former FBI special agent, deputy director of BIA law enforcement and is currently president of Lamar Associates. Lamar Associates’ Indian Country Training Division offers culturally appropriate training for Indian country law enforcement and service professionals with both on-site and online courses.