|Thursday, 18 December, 2014|
Tribes wary of selling pot after feds approve
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Many in Indian Country are wary of the idea of growing and selling marijuana on tribal lands, even if it could present an economic windfall and the U.S. Department of Justice says it's OK.
“I would really doubt tribes would be wanting to do something like that,'' said Don Gentry, chairman of the Klamath Tribes in Oregon, where voters this year approved a measure to legalize recreational pot. “We have an alcohol- and drug-free policy at work. It would just not be something we would be looking for into the future.''
The U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday that it has adopted a new policy saying Indian tribes, which are considered sovereign nations, can grow and sell marijuana on tribal lands as long as they follow the same federal conditions laid out for states that have legalized the drug.
Oregon U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall said the policy addresses questions raised by tribes about how legalization of pot in states like Oregon, Washington and Colorado would apply to Indian lands.
“That's been the primary message tribes are getting to us as U.S. attorneys,'' Marshall said from Portland. “What will the U.S. as federal partners do to assist tribes in protecting our children and families, our tribal businesses, our tribal housing? How will you help us combat marijuana abuse in Indian Country when states are no longer there to partner with us?''
Whether tribal pot could become a major bonanza rivaling tribal casinos is a big question. Marshall said only three tribes — one each in California, Washington state and the Midwest — have voiced any interest. She did not identify them.
Seattle attorney Anthony Broadman, whose firm represents tribal governments throughout the West, said the economic potential is vast. “If tribes can balance all the potential social issues, it could be a really huge opportunity,'' Broadman said.
Many in Indian Country are wary.
The Yakama Nation in Washington state recently banned marijuana on the reservation and is trying to halt state regulated pot sales and grows on lands off the reservation where it holds hunting and fishing rights.
The Hoopa Valley Tribe in Northern California has battled illegal pot plantations on its reservation that have damaged the environment.
In South Dakota, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council this year rejected a proposal to allow marijuana on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
“For me, it's a drug,'' said Ellen Fills the Pipe, chairwoman of the council's Law and Order Committee. “My gut feeling is we're most likely going to shoot it down.''
Walter Lamar is a member of the Blackfeet Nation, and former FBI agent, who advises and offers training to tribes on drug issues, noted that unemployment is high in Indian Country, and many of the jobs that are available, such as wildland firefighting, teaching, and U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs positions, require drug testing.
“Once there's an easier availability for marijuana, it's going to create some issues that could have an impact on our employment pool,'' he said.
Marshall warned that problems could arise for tribes with lands in states that outlaw marijuana due to the likelihood that pot would be transported or sold outside tribal boundaries.
Broadman said tribes would enjoy a huge advantage selling pot, as they do with tobacco, because they would not have to charge taxes.
Alison Holcomb, a primary drafter of Washington state's legalization measure, said most people in larger states won't want to drive to far-flung reservations to buy pot.
But John Evich disagreed. He runs a legal marijuana store in Bellingham, Washington, near the Nooksack Indian reservation. When he chewed tobacco, he said, he used to stock up at the reservation because it was about 30 percent cheaper there. He had little doubt people would do the same if tribes began selling pot.
The Nooksack tribes did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Marshall said with 566 tribes around the country recognized by the federal government, there will be a lot of consulting between tribal leaders and federal prosecutors. Some tribes have their own police, some rely on federal law enforcement, and some call in state and local police.
With limited resources, federal prosecutors will not prosecute minor cases, Marshall said.
The tribal policy is based on an August 2013 Justice Department announcement that the federal government wouldn't intervene as long as pot legalization states tightly regulate the drug, keep it from children and criminal cartels and prevent sales to states that outlaw it, among other measures.
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Montana has reached an agreement in principle on a water compact with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, state officials and a tribal spokesman said Thursday.
Both sides said that they hope to iron out the final details in time for the compact to be considered for approval during the Legislative session beginning in January.
“There's some work left in getting words to match up ... but we agree in principle,'' said Salish and Kootenai Tribes spokesman Rob McDonald.
The compact quantifies and clarifies how much water the tribe gets for its fisheries and other uses, and how much farmers and ranchers get for irrigation.
A prior agreement was rejected by lawmakers after irrigators complained they were going to lose water.
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox and Gov. Steve Bullock said in a statement that the new compact will protect the tribe's rights while ensuring irrigators and residents on or near the Flathead Indian Reservation have a reliable water supply.
The state would pay $55 million for improvements to the Flathead Indian Irrigation system, including a $30 million fund to pay for water pumping to meet irrigation demands.
The compact also establishes a technical team that will include an irrigator to put into effect provisions of protecting historic uses of the reservation's water, and also making sure the tribe's stream-flow targets on the Flathead River are met.
The compact needs further approvals from the state Legislature, Congress and the northwest Montana tribes.
The Montana Legislature last year rejected a prior agreement that was the product of more than a decade of negotiations. At least four lawsuits have been filed since then over claims to the water flowing on or through the reservation.
Those cases are still pending.
How much of the reservation's water goes to farmers, ranchers and others through the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project has been at the core of the dispute.
After the prior agreement was rejected, Bullock and tribal leaders opened negotiations that were limited to agreements between the tribes and irrigation districts in western Montana.
The 2015 session is the final chance for lawmakers to approve a compact with the tribes. If they fail, the tribes will have to assert their water rights by filing claims in a state stream adjudication court by June 30, 2015.
The Legislature has approved water compacts for Montana's other reservations.
A call to the tribes' communications director, Robert McDonald, was not immediately returned.