Marijuana Legalized On Wisconsin Native American Reservation

Marijuana is now legal to possess and smoke on a Wisconsin Native American Reservation, according to reservation officials.

Last week, members of the Menominee tribe in Wisconsin voted 677 to 499 to legalize marijuana on its 360 acre reservation for recreational use. The vote to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal usage passed even more overwhelmingly with a vote of 899 to 275 in favor.

Shortly after the legalization was passed, Menominee chairman Gary Besaw gave a statement.

“This is new ground. We have to start looking at developing best practices and draft ordinances to maximize the benefits we believe are possible and minimize the consequences we believe also are possible.”

So, how does this all work? The sale and possession of marijuana are illegal under Wisconsin state law, so how can it be legal on the reservation? State law enforcement authorities do not have criminal jurisdiction on reservations like the Menominee. (However, state law enforcement officers do have the power to arrest anyone who leaves the reservation in possession of the drug.) On the other hand, federal authorities do have the power to enforce criminal jurisdiction on the reservation.

If you’re confused by the distinction, you’re not the only one. Experts say that the apparent legalization of marijuana on the reservation could bring with it a whole host of legal issues for the tribe.

The director of California Indian Legal Services, Dorothy Alther, commented on the Menominee reservation’s marijuana decision to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“Tribes are treading on very dangerous grounds. If I was representing tribes out there, I would say it might not be such a good idea.”

California tribes have been raided in the past by federal authorities for doing the very same thing the Menominee are in the process of proposing, even though the U.S. Department of Justice released a memorandum to federal authorities “discouraging” them from prosecuting reservations for selling or growing marijuana.

Even though the Menominee tribe has voted to approve the growth and sale of marijuana, they may still be restricted to only selling it to Native Americans, and they may ultimately be stripped of their federal funding if a conservative bill just proposed by Oklahoma Representative James Lankford passes into law.

Still, the money that may possibly be made with the growth and sale of marijuana could potentially be a real boon to the Menominee reservation.

Of the 10 other reservations in Wisconsin, at least three others besides the Menominee are seriously looking at legalizing the growth and sale of marijuana.

What do you think? Should Native American reservations be able to make their own rules and laws concerning marijuana, or should they be bound by the laws of the state in which they reside?

[Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]