Native American tribes are preparing to cash in on an Obama administration decision to allow the cultivation and sale of marijuana on their lands, regardless of state law.
The decision was formalized by the Department of Justice in December 2014. Less than two months later, the Huffington Post reports that more than 100 tribes have begun the process of contracting professional growers to fill future dispensaries.
"Tribes want what any government wants for its people, and that's financial independence," Barry Broutman, CEO of Kansas-based FoxBarry Farms, told the Huffington Post. "They want to earn their own money, provide education, health care and housing. This new industry allows them to be more economically independent."
FoxBarry and Colorado's United Cannabis group already have a deal with California's Pomo Nation tribe "to grow thousands of marijuana plants at its 99-acre rancheria just north of Ukiah, where they are currently building a $10 million indoor cultivation facility," according to the Associated Press.
The background: The legal notice that set off the growing frenzy was filed Oct. 28, 2014, but made public in December.
"With a number of states legalizing marijuana for use and production, some tribes have requested guidance on the enforcement of the Controlled Substance Act on tribal lands by the United States Attorneys' offices," the DOJ memo says, before effectively ceding the decision to its "tribal partners":
Indian Country includes numerous reservations and tribal lands with diverse sovereign governments, many of which traverse state borders and federal districts. Given this, the United States Attorneys recognize that effective federal law enforcement in Indian Country, including marijuana enforcement, requires consultation with our tribal partners in the districts and flexibility to confront the particular, yet sometimes divergent, public safety issues that can exist on any single reservation.
Legal experts credit this vague language with creating the leeway for the tribes to make and enforce their own laws.
Oregon U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall confirmed that interpretation in a conversation Dec. 11, 2014 with the Associated Press, saying, "I have confidence in tribal government that they will deal with it appropriately and they'll take into consideration social and legal aspects, as well as other implications that go along with bringing something like that into a community."
At the time, she said questions from tribal leaders had been focused less on how and when they could start growing and more on how to prevent overuse or abuse in states, like Colorado and Washington, that have voted to end their marijuana bans.
There are 326 Native American reservations across the United States, constituting 56.2 million acres of federally administered tribal land, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs:
Among the questions: "What will the U.S. as federal partners do," Marshall said, "to assist tribes in protecting our children and families, our tribal businesses, our tribal housing? How will you help us combat marijuana abuse in Indian Country when states are no longer there to partner with us?"
But the potential to create a new cash crop in the vein of the casinos that, in 2013 alone, brought in an estimated $28 billion, has apparently softened those concerns. And rightfully so: 23 states have legalized medicinal marijuana in some form, with voters in four of them — Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska — having approved initiatives to end bans on buying and selling weed for recreational use. Washington D.C., is in a legal battle with Congress to enact a law that would allow individuals to grow and use marijuana but not sell it.
Contrary to some critics' dire warnings, legalization has been a massive financial success, while doing no quantifiable harm to public health or safety. In Colorado, the state government has pulled in so much new tax revenue it is literally at a loss for how to spend it all.
If the federal government follows through on its promises, the Native American tribes should soon, deservedly so, be able to reap the same significant rewards.
h/t Huffington Post