This past week, the United States Department of Justice released a memo stating that Native American tribes are legally allowed to grow marijuana on their designated tribal lands. The memo was drafted in response to inquiries from Native American leaders who were curious as to how the much discussed measured passed by several states in the past few years affected tribal lands, which have long been given several exceptions to other federal laws.
The memo wraps up a year-long investigation by the Attorney General’s Native American Issues Subcommittee, which also issued a shorter and less comprehensive memo last year.
A main focus of this latest announcement are eight federal law enforcement priorities which will be the focus of the Department of Justice. These include many priorities that states like Colorado and Washington have also previously announced while drafting their state-level marijuana laws; stated priorities like keeping marijuana from minors, preventing criminal enterprises and cartels from entering the market and trafficking, keeping cannabis products from crossing state lines, and making sure that drivers are not driving under the influence while behind the wheel.
The memo was careful to point out that “nothing in the Cole Memorandum alters the authority or jurisdiction of the United States to enforce federal law in Indian Country. Each United States Attorney must assess all of the threats present in his or her district, including those in Indian Country.” It continues, “The eight priorities in the Cole Memorandum will guide United States Attorneys’ marijuana enforcement efforts in Indian Country, including in the event that sovereign Indian Nations seek to legalize the cultivation or use of marijuana in Indian Country.”
Anyone who has ever been to a casino on tribal lands probably can’t help but think about the very real possibility that this will lead to dispensaries opening right next door (if not in the hotel casino lobby.) However, some tribes have already voted against marijuana in the past. According to an article about this topic on Fox News, tribes in South Dakota rejected a proposal to try to begin the process of cultivating and selling marijuana, and only a small handful of tribes in California and Washington state have expressed interest in getting into the booming cannabis industry.
While this is certainly a good thing for proponents of marijuana legalization on a national level, we’ll have to wait to see how many tribes will take advantage of this new development.