Native Americans and Cannabis

The federal legislative discussion on further legalizing cannabis continues with legislation aimed at banking reform, further availability for U. S. scientists to finally apply the scientific method in cannabis health research and vacating thousands of marijuana convictions. However, one area still to be addressed is protections for Native Americans using medical marijuana on tribal land.

According to Tom Rodgers of Carlyle Consulting, a lobbyist for cannabis legalization and Native American civil rights, Native Americans, or First Americans are consistently denied rights under state law, because they reside on “Federal” land, reservations. A household on Picuris Pueblo land in New Mexico was raided by agents of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in November. According to the Associated Press, an estimated year’s supply of marijuana was confiscated from a man enrolled in the state medical marijuana program.

“A similar raid would not have happened on non-tribal land”, Rodgers said, because of New Mexico’s medical marijuana program. 

A measure proposed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.)  and Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), first passed by the House in 2019 as part of the appropriations bill, prohibits any funding to the Department of Justice for marijuana enforcement in defiance of state marijuana law. 

A new version of the bill explicitly states the bill also refers to Indian tribes as well. Which means that tribal marijuana markets, like that of the Oglala Sioux on Pine Ridge, would have the same authority as does surrounding states.

Rodgers says those amendments leave a big hole effectively leaving Native American consumers and entrepreneurs vulnerable. The Blumenauer amendments only cover actions by the Department of Justice, delegating authority to the states, he said.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is under Department of the Interior, and the tribal lands it polices are federal, according to long established legal conventions, “domestic dependent nations,”.

“Native Americans, the First Americans, do not want to be treated differently, unfavorably and disproportionately when it comes to application of laws and benefits of this country,” Rodgers said. As long as Native Americans are subject to the whims of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (an agency whose past treatment of Native Americans has not consistently been the best), they will continue to be denied the same rights offered to other state residents.

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