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“The opposition has disappeared in this country.... It is 10 years before it is legal everywhere. There is a 10-year window for tribes to capitalize on this."

Tribal Marijuana Conference: ‘A 10-Year Window for Tribes to Capitalize’

Jacqueline Keeler
3/2/15

On February 28 some 75 tribal leaders from across the country met to discuss forming the first “Tribal Cannabis Association” at the Tulalip Resort Casino on the Tulalip Reservation in Washington State.

This followed a packed day on February 27 of “Tribal Marijuana Conference” presentations and panels with speakers as diverse as former U.S. Attorney Troy Eid (current chair of President Barack Obama’s National Indian Law and Order Commission) to the city attorneys of both Seattle and Boulder, Colorado, who gave in-depth overviews of how implementation of state laws legalizing marijuana possession and usage is proceeding in their respective cities.

RELATED: Groundbreaking Conference to Discuss Legalizing Marijuana in Indian Country

The conference was organized by Robert Odawi Porter of Odawi Law PLLC, a former President of the Seneca Nation of New York, and Washington state cannabis business attorneys Hilary Bricken and Robert McVay of Harris Moure.

“This issue was a historic moment for the United States 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,” Porter said. “Tribal leaders are now going to have the same opportunity to think through whether legalizing marijuana was a good thing. I’m hopeful that today’s event was part of a beginning process of providing quality information and informing leadership, informing their employers and other staff and community members and, hopefully, continue that process in the coming days and weeks.”

RELATED: Proceed With Caution: A Warning to Tribes Wanting to Grow Medical Marijuana

Porter was referring to the memo issued by the Department of Justice in October 28, 2014 instructing all U.S. attorneys to not pursue prosecution of federally recognized tribes that choose to legalize and regulate marijuana if they meet priorities laid out in a memorandum issued by Deputy Attorney General Cole on August 29, 2013. These include preventing distribution of marijuana to minors and preventing revenue of sale of marijuana to criminal enterprises.

RELATED: La Push Kush, Lummi Yummy, Apache Gold? When the Rez Smoke Shop Goes to Pot

However, former U.S. Attorney Eid remains 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. Having said that, there are no changes in federal law here…. 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.”

Another speaker, Douglas Berman, professor of law at Ohio State University and author of the widely read and cited Sentencing Law and Policy blog, disputed Eid’s concerns: “Technically, it’s a violation of federal law when I put together my March Madness bracket but in a million years I don’t expect federal authorities to come knocking on my door and to say stop doing that.”

RELATED: Marijuana Legalization Must Remain Public Policy Debate

He made a comparison to the growth in online gambling where companies found work-arounds, and due to the uncertainty at the federal level they could be confident that by conducting their business “low-scale and respectful of federal concerns,” federal enforcement was unlikely.

Seattle City attorney Pete Holmes opened his presentation with a daring question, "As a city attorney...why am I advocating for legalization?"

Salvador Mungia, ACLU-W cooperating attorney stated that his goal as one of the 10 sponsors of Washington state's Initiative 502 that legalized recreational marijuana sales in the state "was to take marijuana distribution out of the hands of the criminal element.” He added, “I've never even smoked marijuana."

Boulder’s City Attorney Thomas Carr emphasized planning and screening of marijuana businesses. His experience has been that the strict enforcement of business licensing requirements “weeded out” potential bad business operators so much so that today, 79 marijuana businesses have joined the Chamber of Commerce. And the Chamber, which had previously opposed legalization, now supports it.

But banking still remains an issue and the all-cash nature of the business is a real danger. Carr noted that Boulder’s City Hall is no longer open to the public because the large amount of cash ($3 million last year) they must take in from the marijuana business owners requires greater security.

Bricken, a cannabis attorney in Washington state and one of the organizers of the conference, was a strong advocate for tribes entering into the marijuana banking services industry. She told the audience, “I think tribes can be first to market here. I really do.”

“These are entities,” she explained. “These are sovereigns that are experienced in business; they have a lot of experience with regulation [so] a bank absolutely makes sense.”

She noted Credit Unions, although equally as well-regulated as larger banks, have been taking it on, but it is still not enough. The industry still needs more lending.

State Senator Tick Segerblom from Nevada, the father of Nevada’s 2013 Medical Marijuana law, SB 374, and co-chair of Nevada’s recreational marijuana initiative Treat it Like Alcohol warned, “The opposition has disappeared in this country...it is 10 years before it is legal everywhere. There is a 10-year window for tribes to capitalize on this."

Amanda Reiman, Manager of Marijuana Law and Policy at the Drug Policy Alliance in California, reminded those gathered that cannabis could help Native American communities battling addiction.

Reiman has conducted post-doctoral research on drug-purchasing behaviors, alcohol-control policies and medical marijuana for the Alcohol Research Group through the National Institute of Health and found that “cannabis can help people with dependency on alcohol and other narcotics.”

Les Parks, Vice Chairman of Tulalip Tribe Board of Directors, shared a video of a local Seattle television news report on the medical marijuana extract CBD that is used to relieve epileptic seizures and predicted a future for tribes in the pharmaceutical industry: "We [tribes] can lead this country in CBD drug development."

The key, as the tribal leaders noted while meeting the following day to consider forming a Tribal Cannabis Association, is ensuring that all federally recognized tribes successfully meet regulations outlined by the Justice Department memo. Key to this is meeting with each local U.S. attorney and coming to an agreement with boundaries of enforcement.

However, Henry Cagey, Council member and former Chairman of the Lummi Nation, noted that they had extended an invitation to Seattle’s U.S. attorney for this conference but had received no response.

RELATED: Tribal Leaders to Discuss Formation of Tribal Cannabis Association

There will be a follow-up meeting on March 12 at 2 p.m. on the last day of RES (the Reservation Economic Summit) in Las Vegas. There, duly authorized representatives of tribes will meet and share feedback from their tribal councils, youth and courts. 

Larry Sault, a Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation Councillor from Ontario, Canada questioned when federally recognized U.S. tribes would honor their 1999 agreement with the First Nations chiefs to coordinate a North American trade association. He also noted that legalization was proceeding quickly in Canada and that the market will be much bigger than just the United States. His nation is equity partners with Weed MD, one of Canada’s top providers of medical marijuana and is looking for Native American partners in the U.S.

A Hawaiian Cannabis Consultant, Scott David asked that the Hawaiian Sovereign Nation be allowed to participate in the Las Vegas meeting in light of their impending federal recognition.

“I learned a lot, taking back a lot to share with the tribal members,” George Thurman, Principal Chief of the Sak and Fox Nation said. “We are still up in the air about whether we are going to do it or not.” Oklahoma has just passed a medical marijuana law and his tribe would look at pursuing a "seed-to-sale” business model. They are located midway between Oklahoma City and Tulsa and are looking to diversify from gaming to other avenues of revenue.

William Anderson, former Chief of the Moapa Band of Paiutes, had a personal story to share about the medical applications of cannabis. He had a foot infection that went to his spine and had to get a spinal replacement of titanium steel in his back. For two years he battled an infection, and the creams that the doctors prescribed were ineffectual, leaving him unable to walk and in constant pain. Indian Health Service recommended amputation of his foot.

“I just prayed to the Great Creator and said, ‘Please just help me function as a normal human being.' Then I recalled a documentary I had seen years ago about the use of medical marijuana for cancer patients.” He used it as an oil topically and he felt immediate relief of his pain and was able to walk again.

“I’m really grateful to be here today, to just talk and to shake hands with people. This is what I want to bring to Indian people out there. To show that there are other ways to get help.”

Jacqueline Keeler is a Navajo/Yankton Dakota Sioux writer living in Portland, Oregon and co-founder of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, creators of Not Your Mascot. She has been published in Telesur, Earth Island Journal and the Nation and interviewed on MSNBC and DemocracyNow and Native American Calling. She has a forthcoming book called “Not Your Disappearing Indian” and podcast. On twitter: @jfkeeler

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JustinHale's picture
JustinHale
Submitted by JustinHale on
I would love to see the Tribes take control of this business in states where it is legal. The tribes have the land,probably wouldn't be hard to find a few competent growers out there,no three tier tax structure like they have in Wa. state,sell MJ products in the casinos. The Tribes could corner the entire MJ industry.

Don Land
Don Land
Submitted by Don Land on
Good Morning; I have been observing progress with the North American Tribes, and thought you should know, they are not the only Tribes forwarding a cannabis economy .Here in the Kingdom of Thailand the Hmong and Akha Tribes have the same rights and privileges in accord with the UNDRIP treaty. as Chairmen of Thai Cannabis Corporation I work to create an Economy based on the Queens Royal Initiative for the last 6 years of the 12 year Project.We have MUCH to Share ,we have been waiting for you all .

Highhorse's picture
Highhorse
Submitted by Highhorse on
I am against Natives becoming known for being dope dealers, I mean, marijuana farmers. Having the stereotype of being drunks, casino rich or what ever, having the stereotype of being a drug lord is not one I want to be associated with. I don't buy into this "medicinal" malarkey. I believe it is just a way to justify getting high legally. Look around, the majority for legalization look like stoners or gang bangers. Does prohibition ring a bell? Hey, make alcohol legal on the reservations too then. Alcohol kills germs. Alcohol is in beer. I got a cold, I need beer to kill my germs. That is what I hear. There is a lot of crime attached to the marijuana scene. It is a vice that is like any other. If we decide to make marijuana a cash crop, we are putting more nails in our cultures' (yes, plural) coffins and making our legacies as dope dealers, drunks and druggies who can make it rain with dances. I voice NO!

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
There it is, it's been said! There is approximately a ten year window before anyone can buy marijuana in a store on the street. That is a firm timeline that must be adhered to if marijuana cultivation is going to be profitable for indigenous nations. (to Highhorse): You make my point by trying to make yours. You're absolutely right! Look what prohibition did for alcohol. It gave rise to some of the most powerful crime families in the country. Look what being illegal has done for marijuana; it gave birth to some of the most ruthless, violent drug cartels ever! ____________________________________________________________ Now, think of the two substances. Alcohol requires an extensive processing, a brewery and a distillery and a distribution system. Marijuana was once a weed. It grew everywhere. It requires no special processing and can be used shortly after plucking it from the ground (like a carrot, or a turnip). You must certainly know of the numerous alcohol-related deaths suffered by people EVERYWHERE. Can you name how many people die annually from marijuana overdose? ZERO! NONE! NADA! ____________________________________________________________ If Natives are smart and jump on this opportunity places like Pine Ridge, South Dakota won't be touted as "the poorest place in America." If we play our cards right (pun intentional) we can turn this "vice" into money for education, healthcare, community needs and concerns. You say you're concerned about being called a pusher or a druggie; is that any better than being called a drunkard (whether or not you drink), a bum (whether or not you work), a thief (whether or not you steal) or a Redskin (whether or not you support the Washington team). My point is that people will call you names no matter what you do or say - why let that stop your people from making a little money to help themselves?

indianmedicine's picture
indianmedicine
Submitted by indianmedicine on
The "Medicinal Marijuana" concept is a "Good Thing" - for it provides a legitimate "Way's and Means" for The Red Communities to have a vehicle that is a Service to others in a manner of Speaking - because it can not only offer "Medicine" that works for a confirmed medical set of issues............. .................................................................................................................... As to "Regulation" of being a Medical Cannabis Farmer, there are already a set of Protocols developed in the State of Washington for Medical Marijuana; so that really isn't at issue - and NO, Cannabis Farmers are NOT Dope Dealers; they provide "natural medicine" that is needed for many diseases too include Cancer, Dementia, Nerve Damage, Spinal Chord Injuries, Rheumatoid Arthritis, PTSD, diet, ED, etc...................................... ...................................................................................................................... As surfaced, the Legal Standing of Medical Marijuana Change, would eradicate much of the "Organized Crime Syndicates" who regulate the GDP of Marijuana in The Americas...................................................................... ..................................................................................................................... What Medical Marijuana does, is address and provides a means for " P A I N Management" in many diseases and conditions AND provides a Way's & Mean's for The Red People's to contribute to a demonstrated medical need - and legitimately benefit economically.................................. ..................................................................................................................... Another way of looking at this is that the Government will make Criminals out of Non-Criminals for using Medical Marijuana; and continue to give Organized Crime an economic unjust enrichment to further themselves at Society's Expense........................................................................................ ..................................................................................................................... I really do not see a Patient on feeling a twinge of pain; going into Public and lighting up a "Dubie"; and we must get away from the pre-disposition of the sight we saw in the "60's" where "Long Haired Hippie People Got Loaded, and "Short Haired Vietnam Soldiers" got high for the sake of Entertainment Drug's........................................................................................................ .................................................................................................................. Go to a VA Hospital sometime and look at the Pain & Anguish of injuries; or the "Dead Look" of administrating "Industrial Made Pain Killers" that Kill the Patient to Cure the disease - Not A Pretty Sight....................................... .................................................................................................................. Medical Marijuana does NOT do these things; and you do not Over Dose on Medical Marijuana..................................................................................... ..................................................................................................................

lyndapedro's picture
lyndapedro
Submitted by lyndapedro on
There's great money to be made off of the Indian condition, isn't there? "a ten-year window". Well, I am sorry, but I can't agree with this! Where are the real leaders in Indian country? This is not the answer!

Joe Kalk
Joe Kalk
Submitted by Joe Kalk on
All in all, we must play out our hand in capitalism. The American way, democracy has now given us the leverage to CAPITALIZE.

Billy Redman's picture
Billy Redman
Submitted by Billy Redman on
Native communities should not be venturing down the path of growing marijuana, whether for medicinal purposes or legal recreational purposes. There are enough health issues already stacked high on the plates of tribal health officials and this would just be another one. As a former long time smoker, I can attest there is absolutely no "healthy" way to smoke weed.

WHISPERER's picture
WHISPERER
Submitted by WHISPERER on
Grow and go shops on the rez; are better than allowing Natives to starve. Given vast lands are sacred and not available to commercialism.

WHISPERER's picture
WHISPERER
Submitted by WHISPERER on
Grow and go shops on the rez; are better than allowing Natives to starve. Given vast lands are sacred and not available to commercialism.
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