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Marijuana seen as new frontier in tribal economic development






Alex White Plume, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, tried to grow hemp on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota but was blocked by federal drug laws. Photo from The Flying Cloud Eco-DiscoveryTour

Tribes across the nation are considering whether to legalize marijuana on their lands, a move that could spur a new era in economic development.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law but a new Department of Justice policy opens the door in Indian Country. Since the document became public last last year, advocates have been helping tribes address legal, economic and other issues surrounding the drug.

"It could be a very big opportunity if its done properly," Jeff Doctor, a member of the Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians who formed the new National Indian Cannabis Coalition told Vice. "It almost coincides with what's happened with Indian gaming over the years. It's something that cannot be rushed into. There's a lot to consider."

So far, tribes in California, Washington, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Oregon, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Arizona and Oklahoma have expressed interest in revising their laws and policies towards marijuana. Three tribes in California, where the drug is legal for medical purposes have already signed deals to establish grow operations.

But other tribes -- including the Navajo Nation, the largest in the U.S., and the Yakama Nation of Washington, whose treaty covers millions of acres of ceded lands -- are not interested.

Even those those who are interested, tribes in states where marijuana laws remain strong and in states where Public Law 280 remains in effect are likely to face significant hurdles if they try to enter the industry.

Get the Story:
Native American Tribes Are Looking to Cash in on the Legal Weed Industry (Vice 4/22)

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

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