Native American Tribes Weigh Cannabis Opportunities
January 27th, 2015
Policy, Top News
Several Native American tribes across the country are reportedly debating the legalization of cannabis, after the U.S. Department of Justice gave them a green light in December. While no tribes have taken action on the subject yet, several of them are looking to their options given the potentially lucrative business opportunities and their unique legal position.
Montana’s Fort Peck Reservation may put the issue on tribal ballots in October of this year, while the Red Lake Band of Chippewa in northern Minnesota is conducting a feasibility study on broad cannabis reform right now. These are just two examples of many tribes that are considering at least some reforms aimed at opening up the industry.
The Department of Justice has indicated that it will allow tribes to grow marijuana so long as certain enforcement triggers aren’t tripped – such as sales to minors, involvement with organized crime and the export of pot to jurisdictions where it’s banned – and the policy only applies to federally recognized tribes rather than all tribes.
Even in states where marijuana is already legal, Native American tribes could have significant tax advantages given their unique status in the country. These advantages could be even greater than the tobacco industry, where tribes realize a significant tax savings, since they would also be able to control the production of marijuana in their territories.
It’s unclear whether the federal government will be as permissive toward adult-use marijuana in states that don’t already have legalization programs in place. Since law enforcement is ill-equipped in these states to handle the potential surge in usage, some experts believe that the government will enact bans in these areas on recreational marijuana production and sale.
In the end, Native American tribes may deem legalization initiatives too risky to implement given their favorable treatment with regards to gambling and tobacco. Others insist that these initiatives could force the federal government into finally coming to terms with the industry and establishing a full legal framework on a federal level to handle its growth.
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