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Column: Legal marijuana could bring dramatic changes for tribes

Filed Under: Opinion
More on: doj, drugs, economic development, jurisdiction

An illegal marijuana farm on public land in California. Photo from

Writer discusses the implications of legal marijuana in Indian Country:
The potential economic implications of easing Federal prosecution of marijuana on Native lands cannot be overstated. From January to August of 2014, Colorado alone saw upwards of $34.1 million in revenue from marijuana sales—over $4 million per month. Providing that government officials work in close coordination with tribal leadership to determine the most optimal conditions for legalization, native populations stand much to gain in new business opportunities. We must remain cautiously optimistic, the DOJ memo has indicated that “each U.S. attorney will assess the threats and circumstances in his or her district, and consult closely with tribal partners and the Justice Department when significant issues or enforcement decisions arise”. With many tribes looking for additional ways to raise revenue in light of the structural poverty that many face, marijuana has increasingly been looked to as a means of stimulating economic activity. In particular, the Oglala Lakota Tribal Council’s economic committee has begun to consider marijuana legalization this year.

On the bright side, it appears that many of the cultural divisions between older and younger Americans on the issue of cannabis do not translate onto reservations. Brandon Ecoffey, managing editor of Native Sun News and Oglala tribe member, states that a community so impacted by incarceration and poverty appreciates the possibility for a solution that helps out everyone. From a statistical standpoint, increased economic activity generally results in increased self-determination and quality of life on reservations. In the mid-1980’s, the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development conducted studies across a multiplicity of tribes in order to discover correlations between economic growth and various social conditions. The conclusion of those studies were that tribes with the most economic growth shared a central set of qualities including the reassertion of tribal sovereignty, genuinely representative body politics, and the separation of politics from tribal and private enterprises.

Aside from the anticipated investments associated with marijuana cultivation and usage, employment prospects look very promising. In addition to the $34 million in revenue from Colorado, the newly-formed Marijuana Enforcement Division issued nearly 10,000 employee badges—a form of licensing required for anyone directly handling marijuana. Other indirect avenues for cannabis related economic growth include: security, agricultural suppliers, accountants, etc. Should all 50 states as well as D.C. legalize marijuana, sales are expected to reach $35 billion by 2020. Using a conservative estimate and assuming that only half of that money manifests, that still equates to tens of billions of new economic productivity. A fraction of this would still go a long way for the many tribal reservations that are still seeing poverty rates doubling the national average in the United States.

Get the Story:
Maxwell Lawrence: Legal Marijuana Could Drastically Change Native American Culture ( 1/5)

Relevant Documents:
Policy Statement Regarding Marijuana Issues in Indian Country (October 2014)

Related Stories:
Editorial: Legal marijuana is the last thing Indian Country needs (12/24)
Some South Dakota tribes said to be interested in legal marijuana (12/22)
Editorial: Showing caution for marijuana sales in Indian Country (12/18)
Column: No rush on marijuana sales at Eastern Cherokee casino (12/17)
Opinion: DOJ marijuana policy in Indian Country raises questions (12/16) DOJ announces new policy affecting marijuana in Indian Country (12/11)

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