Tribal Marijuana Sovereignty Act protects federal funds for tribes

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) addresses the National Congress of American Indians executive council winter session in Washington, D.C., on February 24, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) introduced the Tribal Marijuana Sovereignty Act on Wednesday.

The bill ensures that tribes won't be punished for entering the marijuana industry.It bars federal agencies from considering a tribe's cannabis laws and policies when allocating federal funds or considering other federal benefits.

“I strongly believe states should be allowed to enact their own marijuana laws, and have consistently supported attempts to ensure federal laws do not interfere with them,” Pocan said in a press release. “I’m also an ardent supporter of tribal sovereignty, which is why I introduced this bill forbidding the federal government from considering marijuana production, possession, or sale as an adverse factor when disbursing federal funds."

The bill counteracts another proposal that takes a more controversial approach to cannabis in Indian Country. S.1984, the Keeping Out Illegal Drugs Act (KIDS Act), bars tribes that cultivate, manufacture or distribute marijuana from receiving federal funds.

The Squaxin Island Tribe of Washington owns and operates Elevation Recreation, which was the first legal marijuana outlet in Indian Country. Photo from Facebook

"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," attorney Dennis G. Chappabitty and his wife, Linda Amelia-Chappabitty, who has been helping tribes navigate the complex marijuana industry, wrote last August after the KIDS Act was introduced.

Pocan's measure also allows the Indian Health Service to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to patients. But it makes clear that the agency cannot dispense the drug under existing law.

Similar legislation regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs has been included in an appropriations bill that's advancing in the Senate.

Dozens of tribes have expressed interest in the marijuana industry but only a handful, all in Washington state, have successfully entered the market. Uncertainties in federal law and policy, along with potential encroachments by states, have kept more from moving forward with projects that could generate significant economic activity in Indian Country.

Three tribes in California saw their marijuana operations raided by federal and local authorities last year and another in Wisconsin had its hemp plants destroyed by federal agents last October. Another in South Dakota voluntarily destroyed its marijuana after being warned of a potential federal raid.

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

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