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Douglas Capraro Douglas Capraro

Native Americans Will Be Allowed to Grow and Sell Marijuana on Their Land

Tribes will now be exempt from federal marijuana prohibition, although some are reluctant to embrace this exemption.

9 Substance

Native American reservations are historically exempt from certain federal regulations.


US attorneys will no longer be able to prevent Native American tribes from growing or selling marijuana on sovereign lands, even in states where it is illegal, according to a new memorandum passed today by the Justice Department. “The tribes have the sovereign right to set the code on their reservations,” said US attorney for North Dakota, Timothy Purdon.

Some tribes reportedly see this as an opportunity for economic growth, similar to those provided by casinos and tobacco sales. But according to Purdon, the majority of Native American tribes are reluctant to embrace a marijuana industry, due to the toll that alcoholism has taken on their communities. A 2011 survey found that 15% of Native American teens suffer from a substance use disorder, which is nearly twice the rate of the overall adolescent population.

The federal government will continue to legally support tribes that choose to ban pot, even in states where it is now legal. But tribes that choose to allow it will be exempt from the federal ban, as long as they meet certain guidelines, like not selling to minors and not transporting it to areas where it is prohibited.

Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug policy advisor who opposes marijuana legalization, called the development “extremely troubling” and says it’s a slap in the face to federal drug laws. “Native Americans and their families suffer disproportionately from addiction compared to other groups,” he said. “The last thing they want is another commercialized industry that targets them for greater use.”

But maybe what Native Americans want to do about marijuana should be up to Native Americans.