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Senate panel rejects marijuana amendment in tribal jurisdiction bill






Indianz.Com SoundCloud: Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Business Meeting June 22, 2016

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs approved a bill to expand tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians on Wednesday after a spirited debate on marijuana and sovereignty.

Only a handful of tribes have entered the marijuana industry but Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) wants to punish the ones that choose to do so. He proposed an amendment to S.2785, the Tribal Youth and Community Protection Act, to cut off federal funds to tribes that grow the plant.

"These tribes have sovereignty and I completely honor that sovereignty ... but existing federal law already prohibits cultivation and distribution of marijuana," Lankford said at a business meeting on Capitol Hill.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the chairman of the committee, supported the proposal. He said tribal leaders have repeatedly testified about the devastating effects of drugs in their communities.

"Marijuana is a highly addictive drug and I see more detriment than benefit from its use," said Barrasso, who is a physician.


Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), right, is seen on Capitol Hill with John Berrey, the chairman of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma. Photo from Senator Lankford / Facebook

But Democrats criticized the amendment as an intrusion on tribal sovereignty. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), the vice chairman of the committee and the sponsor of S.2785, said states have legalized marijuana without facing a loss of federal funds.

"That really is a different standard than we we use for states like Washington and Colorado," Tester said of the approach in the amendment.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) also spoke out against the proposal. Tribes in Washington are among the very few that have successfully started selling marijuana, which is legal for recreational use in the state under Initiative 502, a voter-approved ballot measure.

"While I didn't support the state measure I certainly support what the Washington voters decided and they include tribal members," Cantwell said.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) opposed the amendment as well but it was Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a former vice chair of the committee, who offered some of the strongest substantive concerns. By including Alaska Native corporations in the prohibiting language, she said the provision places their lands under federal jurisdiction in contravention of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

"I don't hear any Native corporations that have any interest in allowing their lands to be put into marijuana cultivation or use but as I'm looking at this amendment, for us in Alaska, I think there's a bigger principle at stake," Murkowski said.


The Squaxin Island Tribe of Washington owns and operates Elevation Recreation, which was the first legal marijuana outlet in Indian Country. Photo from Facebook

The committee put Lankford's amendment to a voice vote and the "nays" clearly overwhelmed the "yeas" so it wasn't included in S.2785. But no one asked for a recorded vote, something that rarely happens on the committee because it typically acts in a non-partisan and consensus fashion.

Five Democrats and five Republicans showed up for the meeting so Murkowski's opposition likely would have resulted in the same outcome had it gone to a recorded vote.

S.2785 itself was approved by a voice vote. The bill expands on the Violence Against Women Act of 2013 by recognizing the "inherent authority" of tribes to arrest, prosecute and sentence any person -- regardless of race -- for drug crimes, domestic violence against children and crimes against law enforcement.

The committee also approved S.2920, the Tribal Law and Order Reauthorization Act. The bill extends key provisions of the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 to improve justice and safety in Indian Country.

Finally, the committee passed S.3014, the Tribal Forestry Participation and Protection Act. The bill authorizes the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior to work more closely with tribes on the management of federal forest lands.

All three bills can now be sent to the Senate floor for consideration.

Lankford is a first-term member of Congress and a new member of the committee. Last year, he introduced S.1984, the Keeping out Illegal Drugs Act, that would bar tribes from receiving federal funds if they cultivate, manufacture or distribute marijuana. The bill has never received a hearing.

Over in the House, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) has introduced H.R.5014, the Tribal Marijuana Sovereignty Act. The bill ensures that tribes can't be punished for entering the marijuana industry. It hasn't received a hearing either.

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notice:
Business Meeting to Consider S. 2785, S. 2920 & S. 3014 (June 22, 2016)

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

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