In a memo released this week, the Department of Justice has outlined new policies that allow American Indian tribes to grow and sell marijuana on reservation lands.
Under the new policies, four Western US states will be allowed to grow and sell recreational marijuana. While possession of marijuana is a federal crime in the US, the Justice Department had announced in 2013 that it would allow states to regulate recreational marijuana and the step had already been taken with Colorado and Washington opening up recreational pot stores this year. Soon after, Alaska, Oregon and District of Columbia had also voted for and legalized marijuana.
According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, there are a total of 326 federally recognized American Indian reservations. A large number of these reservations are in states that don’t allow the sale of marijuana for medical or recreational use. This includes states like Oklahoma, Utah and the Dakotas.
John Walsh, the U.S. attorney for Colorado says that, “the new federal policy will allow tribes interested in growing and selling marijuana to do so, if they maintain robust and effective regulatory systems.” The tribes will be required to avoid eight enforcement triggers which include sales to minors and the diversion of marijuana to states where it still remains illegal.
In its statement, the Department of Justice clearly specifies, “”Each U.S. attorney will assess the threats and circumstances in his or her district, and consult closely with tribal partners and the Justice Department when significant issues or enforcement decisions arise in this area.”
Despite this latest policy announcement from the Department of Justice, there are still concerns with respect to addiction and substance abuse. Anti-legalization groups such as the Smart Approaches to Marijuana have also indicated concern about the new policy because they fear that it would open door to pockets of legalization across the US.
On the other hand, pro-legalization groups such as the Marijuana Policy Project believe that such policies offer opportunities to improve public health and safety and that the legalizing of marijuana will benefit communities economically. They also point out that there are ways to ensure the product is controlled through regulation and taxation. Communities can benefit from revenue and new jobs.
Mason Tvert, a spokesman for Marijuana Policy Project also highlights that studies have found high rates of alcohol abuse and related problems among Native American communities and the legalizing of marijuana may provide adults a safer alternative.