Lakota Country Times: Bill addresses marijuana in Indian Country

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

Tribal Marijuana Bill Proposed
By Brandon Ecoffey
Lakota Country Times Editor

PINE RIDGE— Across Indian Country there are lingering questions regarding the potential federal response to the possibility of tribal governments legalizing marijuana. A new bill introduced in to the House of Representatives by Rep. Mark Pocan could potentially alleviate some of the fears of tribes looking to enter the industry.

While states like Washington and Colorado have reaped millions of dollars in tax revenue from the legalization of marijuana, some of the poorest communities in the nation have been denied those same opportunities by federal authorities.

Late last year the Oglala Sioux Tribe tossed around the idea of legalizing marijuana on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, however fears over the loss of much needed federal dollars prevented several councilmen from voting in favor of legalization. These fears could be put to rest as a bill has been introduced that would prevent the federal government from withholding money from tribes who want to pursue marijuana legalization.

The Tribal Marijuana Sovereignty Act would prevent federal agencies from suspending dollars allocated from tribes who wish to sell marijuana on their reservation.

“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,” said Rep. Pocan. “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.”

Questions have remained across Indian Country on how the federal government would react to tribal efforts to legalize both marijuana and hemp despite directives from the Department of Justice that advised U.S. Attorneys across the America to deal with tribal-governments in the same way that they would deal with individual states.

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A policy known as the Cole Memorandum was drafted in response to requests from tribes for guidance from the DOJ on the matter outlined several steps that tribes must take in order to gain permission to cultivate and sell marijuana. Additionally, a portion of the 2014 Farm Bill allowed for the created an exemption for marijuana research by institutions of higher learning but their mention of tribes in the document. Oglala Sioux citizen Alex White Plume has argued that tribal-nations should also be granted the right to use language in the 2014 Farm Bill to manufacture hemp.

The Bill would also free Indian Health Service doctors to discuss the medical potential of marijuana with patients and prevent tribal-citizens from being kicked out of tribal housing for marijuana possession.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at

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