Native American tribes were notified in a memo this week that the tribes will be permitted to grow and sell marijuana on reservations. The Justice Department released the memo that detailed the new polices for growing pot on reservations this Thursday.
While possessing marijuana is still a federal crime, last year the federal government announced that states would be permitted to regulate marijuana sales for recreational use. This year, the first recreational marijuana stores opened their doors in Colorado. Individual states have been introducing and implementing legislation at a steady rate that legalizes marijuana for various purposes. Now, thanks to the decision by the Justice Department, Native Americans living in the U.S. will have the right to grow and sell marijuana legally for recreational use on their native soil for the first time in many decades.
The new policy opens doors for what could be a promising, albeit controversial, money maker for Native tribes in the United States. U.S. attorney for Colorado John Walsh explained to the Los Angeles Times that Native Americans will still need to maintain "robust and effective regulatory systems" to take advantage of the new federal policy. This includes ensuring that marijuana sales are not made to minors and not allowing marijuana to be diverted to states where marijuana is still prohibited by state laws.
Some Native American tribes already see profits from casino revenue and untaxed cigarette sales, so the right to sell marijuana on reservations has the potential to expand tribal income, according to U.S. News.
Timothy Purdon, U.S. attorney for North Dakota and chairman of the Attorney General's Subcommittee on Native American Issues, explained that this still isn't a marijuana free-for-all; the Native American tribes will still remain under federal guidance and will be required to follow certain federal guidelines.
Some tribes, such as the Yakama Reservation in Washington, are opposed to the sales and usage of marijuana on their reservations. Timothy Purdon claimed that the opposition stems from the constant reminder of how the use of alcohol has ravaged the native people.
Still, he stated, "The tribes have the sovereign right to set the code on their reservations."
In contrast to the idea of sovereign rights of natives, Kevin A. Sabet, former advisor on drug issues to President Obama, finds the memorandum extremely troubling.
"It once again sends a message that we really don't care about federal drug laws," Sabet said, explaining that he feels the new federal marijuana policy for Native Americans will cause the members of the tribe more harm.
"Native Americans and their families suffer disproportionately from addiction compared to other groups. The last thing they want is another commercialized industry that targets them for greater use," he added of the decision by the Justice Department to allow Native American tribes the right to grow and sell marijuana on their reservations.
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