Senate Committee Hears from Indian Tribes on Marijuana Issues in Listening Session


A Senate committee held a listening session on Friday to address marijuana issues for Indian tribes, discuss relevant legislation and the importance of tribal sovereignty over cannabis.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), first announced the meeting, titled “Cannabis in Indian Country,” last week.

Schatz’s director of communications recently told Marijuana Moment that the session was an opportunity for tribes to share feedback on cannabis issues with Senate staffers. However, the session is not considered a formal hearing and no senator attended.

Numerous representatives from Indian tribes and professional associations across the country participated in the meeting, both through in-person testimony and via webinar software. A main theme of the conversation was that many Indigenous communities feel that even though they have cannabis businesses in their jurisdiction, they don’t have the same economies and infrastructure resources as states that have legalized.

“The Seneca Nation of Indians supports a tribal-federal-state framework that allows tribes to establish and regulate their own cannabis industry, completely free from state interference,” an official said during the session. “Tribes and tribal communities are best placed to determine what will work and what will not work in their territories, and we believe that states have no role in this process.”

Other tribes that had representatives present at the listening session included the Suquamish Tribe, Pueblo de Laguna, Kumeyaay Nation, Puyallup Tribe, and Santee Sioux Tribe.

While many conversations focused on tribe-specific policies and issues such as taxation and tribal contracts with state governments, several witnesses also highlighted the need to end the federal ban on improving tribal markets. .

Some tribal officials have pushed for expanded commercial cannabis licensing, including the ability to market marijuana not only within their own territory, but also across state lines and internationally in countries like Canada and Mexico.

There have been several complaints about the compact system that exists between the tribal states when it comes to the gambling industry, with representatives saying there is a serious need to learn from it to prevent similar issues from occurring in when it comes to cannabis.

A number of witnesses also raised the issue of incremental reform, pushing for passage of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, for example.

Here are the questions the committee posed to witnesses to stimulate discussion:

  1. Does your tribe currently participate in the cannabis industry? If yes, please provide a brief description of your operation(s).
  2. For tribes not currently involved in the cannabis industry, what are your main concerns regarding industry involvement?
    1. What legislative solutions would you suggest to address your concerns?
    2. What administrative solutions would you suggest to address your concerns?
  3. For tribes currently participating in the cannabis industry, what are the main issues you face as a tribal operator?
    1. What legislative solutions would you suggest to address your concerns?
    2. What administrative solutions would you suggest to address your concerns?
  4. If cannabis is decriminalized at the federal level, what tribal-federal-state framework would you propose to ensure that tribal interests are safeguarded?

The panel will accept written comments on tribal cannabis issues through July 9 at the email address [email protected].

In March, a coalition of nine U.S. senators sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland urging him to order federal prosecutors not to interfere with marijuana legalization policies adopted by Native American tribes.

The letter requested that the Justice Department “respect the inherent sovereignty of tribal governments and cease enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act on tribal lands with respect to the cultivation, possession, and use of cannabis to medicinal, agricultural and recreational purposes, where these tribes have legalized this activity for its own members and those acting in accordance with tribal law.

There were earlier Obama-era DOJ guidelines on prosecutorial discretion for tribal governments that chose to legalize cannabis. But that directive, known as the Wilkinson Memo, was overturned by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2018, along with a separate memo urging prosecutors not to prosecute states that established markets. regulated cannabis.

The senators urged the attorney general to “restore prosecutorial discretion and allow U.S. prosecutors to prioritize cannabis enforcement where states and tribes have legalized cannabis.”

Representatives at Friday’s listening session also urged the administration to reinstate similar guidelines.

Although the tribe-specific DOJ guidelines have been overruled, the federal government has generally taken a hands-off approach to marijuana law enforcement in states that have chosen to legalize the plant. Last year, however, a federal agency raided a small home cannabis garden of a medical cannabis patient living in the Indian Territory of New Mexico.

The Pueblo de Picuris governor told Marijuana Moment at the time that he felt the raid amounted to a federal double standard, and the tribal government has sought answers from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which reports to the Interior Department.

Last month, the Pueblos of Pojoaque and Picuris signed an intergovernmental cooperation agreement with the government of New Mexico that allows tribes to impose their own tax on cannabis products sold within their tribal jurisdictions.

“New Mexico has a long history of working with tribes to effectively administer taxes while recognizing tribal sovereignty and the limits of state authority over tribal lands,” said the Secretary of Taxation and to New Mexico incomer Stephanie Schardin Clarke in a press release. “This administration is committed to strengthening relationships with tribal governments.”

Pojoaque Governor Jenelle Roybal said the tribe is “very pleased to enter into this cannabis tax agreement and to continue and expand our cooperative efforts with the State of New Mexico regarding the coordination and intergovernmental tax administration”.

Other states like Washington similarly allow native tribes to enter into intergovernmental agreements that would allow Indian territories to adopt their own cannabis regulations, penalties, and tax policies.

Last year, a bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers called on House leaders to include provisions broadly protecting states and tribes that have legalized marijuana from federal interference in final drug spending legislation. fiscal year 2022. It didn’t work out though.

Amendments to these provisions have been made for the House Rules Committee to vote on the floor in July for the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) funding package, but this spending legislation does not was never addressed on the ground as a result of disputes over other unrelated enforcement provisions.

Cannabis language has also been proposed in previous sessions, passing the House in 2020 and 2019. But it was not attached to the final appropriations legislation sent to the president’s office.

Separately, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved hemp regulatory plans submitted by dozens of tribes across the country since cultivation was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.

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