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Yesterday, the U.S. Justice Department announced a dramatic departure from standing cannabis prohibition policy: as long as they comply with federal guidelines put in place for states with recreational cannabis legalization or medical marijuana programs, Native American tribes can grow and sell cannabis on their sovereign territories (also referred to as reservations).
Mirroring the 2013 announcement that the federal government would not prosecute those complying with state laws for simple cannabis possession, this move is another step toward the end of federal marijuana prohibition. Practically, for the 566 acknowledged Native American tribes, that means that as long as the cannabis grown on their land isn’t being sold across state lines or to minors, there would be little risk of federal prosecution.
According to reports in the media, only a few tribes (possibly as few as three) have expressed interest in legalizing marijuana, while others are more concerned with limiting the impact of drug and alcohol abuse on their people, especially the young people. In fact, this ruling was actually in response to a tribal request for assistance in maintaining prohibition on reservations in states that allow for legal marijuana. While the government will still help tribes opposed to legalization, they won’t stand in the way of other tribes going to opposite route.
Some people are already excited about the possibility of untaxed retail cannabis in Washington and other legal states, where high taxes turn off some recreational cannabis buyers. Still, this hope may be far-fetched, as tribal governments will have to change their policies on pot before they can legally take advantage of this new policy. Prohibitionists like Kevin Sabet from Project SAM are not pleased by that fact. He is quoted by the LA Times as saying, “It once again sends a message that we really don’t care about federal drug laws…Native Americans and their families suffer disproportionately from addiction compared to other groups. The last thing they want is another commercialized industry that targets them for greater use.”
Hopefully, in time, tribal elders (including those opposed to legalization) will learn about the idea that cannabis can be an exit drug for those struggling with more serious addictions (like alcohol, the scourge of many a tribal government) and will come to embrace this useful plant and the amazing opportunity just afforded them by the government. While some people are decrying this move as an erosion of federal drug laws, others are celebrating this move for the exact same reason. One way or the other, change is coming.
Prohibitionists can put that in their pipe and smoke it.
For previous Ladybud Magazine articles about federal prohibition, click here.
Photo Credit: Nikator under public domain via Wikimedia Commons