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Red Lake Nation to hold community meetings on legal marijuana

A sign on the Red Lake Nation in Minnesota. Photo from Red Lake Rosie Rescue

The Red Lake Nation of Minnesota will be holding a series of meeting this month to discuss the possibility of legalizing marijuana on the reservation.

The tribal council authorized a feasibility study on growing marijuana for medicinal purposes and hemp for industrial purposes. While the announcement drew a lot of attention, Chairman Darrell Seki Sr. warns that the process will move slowly.

“Whatever we do, it will be done very carefully,” Seki told The Minneapolis Star Tribune.

There is no timeline for the study. But if tribal leaders want to move forward with marijuana, Seki said it will be put to a vote of the membership first.

Medical marijuana will be legal in the state starting July 1, the paper reported. Minnesota falls under Public Law 280 but that law does not cover the Red Lake Reservation.

“They are their own jurisdiction and they can control what they do on their own land,” Manny Munson-Regala, the state health official who is overseeing the Minnesota Medical Cannabis Program, told the paper.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. But a Department of Justice policy could open the door to legal marijuana in Indian Country.

The Pinoleville Pomo Nation in California is planning to open the first grow operation in Indian Country in the coming weeks. The tribe is working with two companies on the project.

“We have a history of using plants for medicine,” Vice Chairwoman Angela James told Reuters. “The tribe is seeking economic development, and we’re comfortable with these partners and this product.”

Other tribes are discussing marijuana but the largest one in the U.S. won't be jumping aboard. The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma isn't interested, a spokesperson told Reuters.

The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians passed a resolution last year to oppose the legalization of marijuana in Alaska, where it was approved for recreational use and Oregon, where it also was approved for recreational use. It's also legal in Washington for recreational purposes.

The Yakama Nation, one of ATNI's members, banned marijuana on its reservation and opposes the sale of the drug on its treaty-ceded lands. But the Suquamish Tribe, another member, is interested.

The tribe “has a responsibility to explore business opportunities that may help raise funds,” Leonard Forsman said in a statement to Reuters.

The first-ever conference on marijuana in Indian Country takes place February 28 on the Tulalip Reservation in Washington.

“It’s going to be up to each Indian nation to decide whether this is a tremendous economic opportunity or something to be feared,” Robert Odawi Porter, an attorney and former president of the Seneca Nation of New York who is co-organizing the Tribal Marijuana Conference, told Reuters. “But one thing is certain. Everyone is talking about it.”

Get the Story:
Red Lake Band debates starting cannabis business (The Minneapolis Star Tribune 2/8)
Casinos to Cannabis: Native Americans Move Into Pot Business (Reuters 2/6)

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

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