WASHINGTON: Last December the Justice Department gave a yellow light to marijuana legalization on tribal land, saying it would treat reservations like states in deciding how to enforce the Controlled Substances Act. Two months later, the very first Tribal Marijuana Conference, held at the Tulalip Resort Casino in Washington, attracted about 250 people, including representatives from 75 or so Indian tribes. They listened intently as speakers (including me) discussed the pros and cons of legalization.
“A great deal more are considering this than I thought would be considering it,” Ken Meshigaud, chairman of the Hannahville Indian Community in Michigan, told the Associated Press. “From an economic standpoint, it may be a good venture the tribes can get into.” Because of their sovereign status, Indian tribes are uniquely positioned to profit from the erosion of marijuana prohibition, although they still face some daunting legal pitfalls.
Start with the federal ban on marijuana, which makes anyone involved in growing or selling cannabis a felon, regardless of his status under state or tribal law. So far the Justice Department has allowed licensed marijuana businesses to operate in states that have legalized the drug for medical or recreational use. But the feds have not made any promises, and that policy is completely discretionary. It can be changed at any time, by this administration or the next.