Native Americans Coming Around to Marijuana

The issues that go along with the legalization of recreational marijuana typically boil down to the state versus federal issue, especially with regards to constructing laws. Washington and Colorado are able to sell marijuana for recreational use because it has been legalized at a state level, while it is still illegal according to the federal government. Another governing body comes into play in states like Washington though—the Native American tribes throughout the state.

Over a year ago, the Department of Justice actually issued a memorandum last October that essentially gave tribal lands the same regulations that are given to states like Washington and Colorado regarding the sale of marijuana. Among the priorities that the memo stipulated include preventing sales to minors, preventing sales to go to criminal enterprises, preventing drugged driving and preventing use on federal property.

Tribes were not quick to jump on this new possible source of revenue. Most tribes approached the opportunity with great consideration, and in a few cases, great trepidation.

One Washington tribe was actually very adamant that marijuana not be grown on any ceded territory, which amounts to approximately a fifth of Washington’s land. The Yakama Nation already had a marijuana ban for its land, and with the legalization of recreational marijuana the tribe pursued the issue further by announcing the intention to keep the 12 million acres ceded to them free of marijuana.

Under the Yakama Treaty of 1885, the tribe has exclusive use of this property and has the option of suing the federal government if the agreement is not adhered to. According to the attorney of the Yakama nation, 300 objections had already been filed with the state and federal government as of January 2014.

It seems like the key to moving forward with this is to do it very deliberately, like with the bill that was just passed in Washington. This bill opens up a process for Native American tribes to work hand in hand with the state of Washington regarding the sale and distribution of marijuana for those interested in doing so. While the tribes do not need the state’s permission, coordination is a concern for both sides.

State Sen. Ann Rivers, who was at the bill’s signing, said, “Getting that signed today is just another step to making sure that we have a well-integrated, well-regulated and well-taxed system in our state.”

An interesting part of the legislation is that those choosing to participate in tandem with Washington state’s system would have to implement tribal taxes that are equal to the state’s tax. This is similar to how cigarette sales work on tribal land. Though the tribes do not collect state tax on cigarettes, they implement a tribal tax that is equal to it.

Soon, Washington tribes will not be the only tribes moving forward with marijuana sales, as tribal nations in other states are looking to do the same. Arizona and California both have tribes that seem anxious to join the recreational market, with two Californian tribes working with outside business partners to construct multimillion-dollar grow houses.

As legislation keeps changing and different governments learn to deal with one another and their respective laws on marijuana, it will be interesting to see how all the institutions learn to work together.

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