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Native American Tribes Free to Grow and Sell Cannabis

Native American Tribes Free to Grow and Sell Cannabis

In a memorandum this week, the justice department reported that it will not stop Native Americans from growing or selling marijuana on sovereign land. The U.S. attorney for North Dakota, Timothy Purdon, is the chairman of the Attorney General’s Subcommittee on Native American Issues. He said that the issue will work on a case-by-case basis, and must still adhere to the same federal regulations and state guidelines.

For tribes, this could mean a revenue generating opportunity similar to the that of cigarette sales and gambling, both of which have been big earners in the past.

Not every tribe wants to be involved in cannabis cultivation or sales, however. At this time, according to Amanda Marshall, Oregon U.S. Attorney, only 3 of the 566 tribes conveyed any interest in the matter, likely because there are social and community uncertainties as well as huge risks involved for tribes located within states where marijuana is still very illegal.

In 2013, in response to the legalization amendments approved in Colorado and Washington, the Cole Memorandum was drafted to give specific guidelines for state legalization, and these same guidelines will be applied to cannabis legalization on tribal lands. According the the Cole Memorandum, the federal government will allow states to enforce their own legalization laws as long as the states are able to demonstrate efforts to enforce the following criteria:

  • Preventing minors from accessing cannabis
  • Preventing cannabis sale revenue from reaching criminal cartels
  • Preventing cannabis from reaching outside of the state in which it is legal
  • Preventing cannabis sales from being used as a cover for other illegal activity
  • Preventing gun violence related to marijuana sales
  • Preventing driving under the influence of cannabis
  • Preventing marijuana from being grown on public lands
  • Preventing marijuana possession and use on federal property

Although not all tribes may be interested, it is only fair that the same Cole Memorandum regulations to be applied to sovereign Native American lands. As Purdon pointed out, “We need to make sure with this policy that we honor the idea that tribes are sovereign.”

photo credit: Kris Krug

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