SANTA FE, N.M. — Tribes across the U.S. are finding marijuana is risky business nearly a year after a Justice Department policy indicated they could grow and sell pot under the same guidelines as states.
Federal raids on tribal cannabis operations in California followed by a South Dakota tribe’s move this month to burn its crop amid fears it could be next have raised questions over whether there’s more to complying with DOJ standards than a department memo suggested last December.
The uncertainty — blamed partly on thin DOJ guidelines, the fact that marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal laws, and a complex tangle of state, federal and tribal law enforcement oversight on reservations — has led attorneys to urge tribal leaders to weigh the risks involved before moving forward with legalizing and growing pot.
“Everybody who is smart is pausing to look at the feasibility and risks of growing hemp and marijuana,” said Lance Gumbs, a former chairman of the Shinnecock Tribe in New York and regional vice president of the National Congress of American Indians. “But are we giving up on it? Absolutely not.”
At a conference on tribal economic development held in Santa Fe, tribal leaders and attorneys said Wednesday that the raids have shown there may be more red tape for tribes to negotiate when it comes to legalizing cannabis than states have faced.
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