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Stoned On The Range:  Marijuana Legalization On Native American Lands

Stoned On The Range: Marijuana Legalization On Native American Lands

Native American lands have long maintained a laissez faire relationship with particular US government regulations. In states with anti-gambling legislation, a non-Native American citizen could easily duck out to a legal casino run by US Bureau of Indian Affairs.


With last year’s decision to allow reservations to determine their own regulations on recreational marijuana, only one tribe – South Dakota’s Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe – has sanctioned full recreational use, with only three additional tribes stating explicit interest in legalization.


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With the convoluted set of rules that comes with legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in the US, many tribes face the same confusion states encounter. After all, the original green light that handed over the decision to let tribes manage legalization on their lands came from a Justice Department Memo.


As mentioned before, only 3 of the 326 US-recognized tribes have expressed interest in legalization on their lands. This is largely due to the fact that historically, many tribes have faced severe substance abuse issues – primarily the overuse of alcohol. Despite the large amount of evidence nearly proving that cannabis provides no addictive factors, many tribal chiefs are hesitant to roll the dice.


As a result, several tribes have taken an active and conservative stance against marijuana. The Hoopa Valley Tribe in California and the Yakuma Nation of Washington are two examples of tribes that have taken extreme measures in disrupting growing and trading operations.


On August 21st of this year, The Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin – where cannabis use is still illegal – have expressed interest to their legislators in allowing the use and sale of cannabis on their lands (located just over 200 miles from Madison). However, the Menominee face several issues in their attempt to profit cannabis:


  • Since it’s still an illegal commodity in the staunchly conservative state of Wisconsin (possession of any amount could lead to 6 months of incarceration), The Menominee are restricted to selling only to Native Americans.
  • Federally insured banks generally do not accept money generated from marijuana trade in fear of violating federal money laundering laws.
  • The Menominee tribe has long been plagued with a history of substance abuse problems.
  • Scott Walker


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The only remaining tribe that has ever attempted to decriminalize cannabis on their lands was South Dakota’s Oglala Sioux Nation. Back in 1988, the Oglala Sioux legalized hemp production, allowing former Vice-President and Tribal President, Alex White Plume, to cultivate the product in 2000-2002. However, federal authorities soon destroyed his crops and banned the tribe from any further growing operations.


It wasn’t until January 2014 that Oglala Sioux Nation came to the decision to hold a vote on legalization. However, the council struck down the vote citing concerns over health and public safety on reservations that outweighed a potential financial windfall for tribes.


Despite the challenges that come with expressing interest in cannabis legalization on tribal lands – or even on US soil for that matter – the 2016 elections are going to be the real determining factor on the future of the marijuana industry.


Regardless of the outcome, it is our duty as longtime “guests” on American soil to allow the Native American tribes govern and dictate their own regulations, on their own lands.