Opinion: Anti-marijuana bill represents attack on sovereignty

Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) speaks at a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing on substance abuse on July 29, 2015. Photo from SCIA / Flickr

Attack on tribal sovereignty
By Linda Amelia and Dennis Chappabitty

On August 5, an obviously senseless bill was proposed by Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) that attacks and destroys a tribe's sovereign right to decide whether to engage in the cultivation of cannabis in states where medicinal marijuana cultivation and use are legal.

The KIDS Act (S.1984) stands for the Keeping Out Illegal Drugs Act. The bill is intended to close the door on tribes from having anything to do with cannabis and threatening to cut off all their federal funding and benefits if they move forward to regulate its use on tribal trust property.

This is a threat of termination in the form of an act of the U.S. Congress.

When a tribal member is cut off from federal benefits because their nation voted to approve the growing of medicinal cannabis in states where it is lawful, the U.S. Congress harkens back to reviving the disgusting policy of federal termination of tribes and their tribal members.

If a tribal nation decides to exercise its inherent authority to venture into the cannabis industry, the proposed KIDS Act would prohibit federal funding and grant benefits that help tribal citizens with their health and housing needs. Come on! The KIDS Act's selective and discriminatory approach ignores the proven ability of tribes to self-regulate a variety of business endeavors on their lands, including gaming.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: Oversight Hearing on "Examining the True Costs of Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Native Communities"

One wonders if Lankford realizes that on March 10, Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) introduced the Compassionate Access, Research and Respect States Act (S.683 and H.R.1538). Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California) and 12 more colleagues are now co-sponsors of the Senate version while the House version counts 16 supporters. It is clear that the CARERS Act is gaining momentum.

The bipartisan CARERS legislation would amend the Controlled Substances Act by transferring cannabis from schedule 1 to schedule 2 as defined in the law. This would "open the door and remove barriers" for research, veterans, banking and most importantly it removes federal interference for medical use and allows states to set up their own policies without federal interference if cannabis is legal in a state for medical use.

As Rep. Ami Bera (D-California) stated in a letter to Dennis G. Chappabitty: "As a medical doctor, I understand that medical marijuana can help patients better deal with the debilitating side effects of chemotherapy and life-threatening diseases."

Where is the equity in Lankford's bill? It appears racist on its face in light of the CARERS Act's removal of federal barriers for states. So why can't Congress do the same for tribes?

Tribes may want to ask if the CARERS Act sponsors would support including tribes. This would show Lankford that tribes want to regulate cannabis as sovereign nations. It is common knowledge and established by our courts of law that tribes should be treated equal to states.

A cannabis plant. Photo from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikipedia

The majority of the people in the United States want to see cannabis made accessible to all who need it for medical purposes. This includes American Indians living on or off the reservation, especially our Native veterans.

Tribes must reserve their own inherent right to allow the cultivation and use of cannabis on their lands under highly regulated tribal laws and compliant with U.S. Justice Department policy. In the event a tribe decides not to go in this direction, it is their right and no one else's.

Lackford's unprecedented bill paints a wrongful picture that tribes are incapable of caring for the health and welfare needs of their members. The suggestion that tribes are incapable of engaging in highly regulated business endeavors is unrealistic, offensive, illusory and not supported by credible evidence.

Help us educate Lankford by sending him letters asking him to withdraw his bill. Educate him on the beneficial medical use of cannabis and its curing properties.

Encourage your own Congressional representatives to support the CARERS Act and ask them to speak with Lankford so that he makes better choices with regard to the legislation that could negatively affect our Indian nations.

Tell him his bill intrudes on our sovereignty and is a slap in the face to tribes and tribal people. It denies our medicine people the right to use cannabis in their healing protocols so long as such use is lawful within the state where the tribe and its reservation are located.

Linda Amelia, a member of the Chinook Nation of Washington, serves as tribal liaison for the National Cannabis Summit. Dennis G. Chappabitty, a member of the Comanche Nation, is an attorney based in California.

Committee Notice:
Oversight Hearing on "Examining the True Costs of Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Native Communities." (July 29, 2015)

Related Stories:
Senate bill bars federal funds to tribes that grow marijuana (8/7)

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