Pine Ridge reservation, South Dakota

The U.S. Justice Department said last Thursday that Indian tribes can grow and sell marijuana on their lands — as long as they follow the same federal conditions laid out for states that have legalized the drug, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Only three tribes have expressed any interest in the marijuana business, but the Justice Department hasn’t named which ones, and many advocates in Native communities are quite wary of legalization’s potential to harm communities susceptible to substance abuse and crime.

However, the question about legalizing marijuana for sale on Indian lands has been answered:

Oregon U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall said that the Justice Department policy addresses questions raised by tribes about how legalization of pot in states like Oregon, Washington and Colorado would apply to Indian lands.

“That’s been the primary message tribes are getting to us as U.S. attorneys,” Marshall said from Portland. “What will the U.S. as federal partners do to assist tribes in protecting our children and families, our tribal businesses, our tribal housing? How will you help us combat marijuana abuse in Indian Country when states are no longer there to partner with us?”

Whether tribal pot could become a major bonanza rivaling tribal casinos is a big question. Marshall said only three tribes — one each in California, Washington state and the Midwest — have voiced any interest. She did not identify them.

It’s an odd turn of events considering there are so many rights that Native Americans, especially those who live on reservations, have been struggling for in recent years – so why the rush to give permission? Who does the government seek to ultimately benefit from legalizing grow ops on Native lands?

Many Indian territories still don’t have permission to conduct their own social services — resulting in troubled families becoming fractured by distance when social services intervenes. Indian children are still being carted away from their cultures into white suburban households. Tribes still experience incredible civil rights violations at the hands of our federal government – especially when there is a conflict with federal laws. Sovereignty and laws vary from territory to territory — and the federal government can either be a tyrant or turn a blind eye,  unwilling to prosecute or assist communities caught in a stranglehold of sexual violence, crime and often, abject poverty.

While Native communities may not have shown any outward interest in drug growing operations, in the past, drug smugglers and US-based cartels have grown on the outskirts of tribal land, often embroiling Native families and reservations into a volatile world of crime and the violence that accompanies it, with no ability to prosecute or stop outsiders from taking over the community. Native American kids suffer from disproportionately high rates of abuse and neglect, and have alarming suicide rates that have been attributed to communities filled with violence, drug addiction, and trauma.  Many drug traffickers have married into the communities, essentially holding the other residents hostage as they use the reservation as an epicenter for their narcotics trade:

“In some cases, outside drug gangs work with Indian criminals to distribute drugs on Indian and non-Indian lands. And on a growing number of reservations, drug traffickers — particularly Mexican criminals — are marrying Indian women to establish themselves on reservations.

At the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation in northwestern Wisconsin, for instance, several members of the Latin Kings gang married Indian women while a tribal offshoot of the gang built a $3 million crack cocaine ring moving drugs from Milwaukee into and around the reservation over the past few years, prosecutors said.”

It’s not clear what the federal government believes could come out of legal grow operations — money put back into the community? Outsiders shut out of the marijuana trade — or illegal operators allowed to set up as legal outfits? A chance to tax cartels that have taken over Native lands?

Legalization and decriminalization do both offer pathways to “more equal” justice in communities. Native Americans are arrested for marijuana-related violations at 1.6 times the rates of white Americans. But the devastating levels of violence that take place on reservation lands, without prosecution are surely a more pressing issue for human rights advocates.

Of course the D.O.J. decision should be eyed with skepticism. Where’s the trade-off?

With so much inaction on so many more pressing issues in Native communities, why the go-ahead to start making a profit in the marijuana industry?

Could it be that the feds are hoping that everyone will just sit down, smoke some pot, and forget about the resurgence of the civil rights movement happening in other communities across the nation?

[Image Credit: Ss114 / Wikipedia]

By Hypatia Livingston

"Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all."Writer, thinker, researcher, philosopher.

5 thoughts on “DOJ Says Tribes Have Sovereignty Over Marijuana Policy, But Why Now?”
  1. So these are those “Sovereign” citizens. I didn’t know Indians were right wing nut jobs. I thought they just got to catch all the fish.

    1. They didn’t explain to you about reservations in elementary school and how the tribes — as sovereign nations — got to keep a few of their rights? Damn our education system failed you hardcore ratcraft. It makes me sad.

      1. Oh come on toots, certainly you saw I was joking…. You have a whole section on sovereign citizens, always making fun of them calling them right wing nuts, teabaggers, idiots, losers, clowns and Dick Cheney fans.

  2. So how exactly is this going to work? And will it be similar to people who try to get on the land of a tribe to just by something “cheaper” and then sneak it back across the boarder? What is going to happen to all of the people trying to do this?

  3. This is nothing new:”…the federal government can either be a tyrant or turn a blind eye…” Isn’t that the way it’s been for native Americans since the first white man came to this country? They’re sovereign, all right – except where the government decides they’re not.

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