“The American Indian is of the ground, be it the region of the forests, the plains, the pueblos or the mesas. It fits into the landscape, because the hand that shaped the continent also shaped man for his environment. It once grew as naturally as wild sunflowers, it belongs just like the buffalo belonged. – Luther Standing Bear, Oglala Sioux Chief
For many Native Americans, these feelings apply to a naturally occurring herb known as marijuana. In recent days, the issue of tribal sovereignty has further complicated the legalization of pot nationwide.
The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs met on June 17 in a session titled “Cannabis in Indian Country,” which discussed cannabis in the context of tribal sovereignty. The meeting was an opportunity for tribal leaders to share their frustrations with the federal pot ban.
In March 2022, nine senators joined together in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland urging him to stop the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act on tribal lands. The letter urged the attorney general to “restore prosecutorial discretion and allow U.S. prosecutors to prioritize cannabis enforcement where states and tribes have legalized cannabis.”
Here is an overview of marijuana laws as they currently apply to tribes:
Sources: Federal ggovernment data; Daily investment in marijuana
States differ in their approach to tribal sovereignty and marijuana. The federal government announced in 2014 that Native American tribes are free to legalize, cultivate, manufacture, and distribute cannabis on tribal lands without federal interference. Many tribes have decided to do this.
The Department of Justice (DoJ) no longer prosecutes federal laws governing the cultivation or sale of marijuana on reservations, even when state law prohibits the drug. But the DoJ will enforce these federal laws, if a tribe requests it.
New Mexico, for example, has a long history of cooperation between the state’s tax division and the state’s tribal communities, which are allowed to make their own laws but are subject to regular taxation.
Other states, such as Washington, allow tribes to make their own laws and govern their own methods of cannabis taxation.
Tribal sovereignty is somewhat similar to the immunity granted to religious institutions that use cannabis or other plant-derived drugs as part of their spiritual beliefs and rituals. Tribes are now seeking clarity and uniformity in marijuana laws in their jurisdictions.
Weed: no problem, man…
The latest annual report from the US State Department Report on international religious freedom focuses on the relationship between religion, cannabis and the law in other countries.
The international report examined the rights of those who practice Rastafarianism in Jamaica and the Caribbean.
The report notes that Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda protect the rights of Rastafarians and Hindus with respect to mind-altering substances. Rastafarianism, the religious movement that was developed by black Jamaicans in the 1930s, generally prohibits eating meat, drinking alcohol and cutting hair, but promotes the use of cannabis for spiritual as part of their religious doctrine.
Hinduism includes the consumption of bhang, a drink that contains cannabis. The bhang is seen by adherents as an aid in spiritual cleansing and protection against the fires of hell.
When it comes to the legality of marijuana use in this country, the focus is less on religious freedom and more on government oversight of its production and use. American courts have continually refused to uphold cases arguing that religious exemptions should be granted in the United States.
White House drug czar Raul Gupta, who heads the Office of National Drug Control Policy, recently said that President Biden is trying to approach marijuana policies in a holistic way that takes into account factors such as religious practices and tribal laws.
The White House is also considering normalizing marijuana laws as a way to reduce addictions to harmful substances, such as alcohol, nicotine and opioids.
Gupta said “for the first time in history, the federal government is embracing the specific harm reduction policies.”
The Department of Justice announced last week that it was preparing to review cannabis laws in “the coming days”. Dozens of members of Congress are lending bipartisan support to push for protections against tribal cannabis use.
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John Persinos is the editorial director of Invest daily.
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