Although cannabis legalization is steadily spreading throughout the US, sovereign tribes can choose to embrace cannabis separately from the state they live in. While the majority of tribes have voted to legalize cannabis in states where cannabis was already legal, an increasing number of tribes are considering cannabis legalization in non-legal states.
Tribes are considering legalization to:
Diversify revenue streams. This would reduce the tribe’s reliance on federal funding.
Create local jobs.
Increase access to non-opioid pain management options.
In fact, the Tribe President of the Oglala Sioux of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota declared a state of emergency in January 2020. Citing meth addiction, drug-related homicides, and a lack of federal funding, he appealed to the tribe for a self-sustaining option: cannabis.
On Tuesday, March 9, 2020, the members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe voted in favor of legalizing medical and adult-use cannabis. While the tribe is still finalizing their vote, an estimated 82% of members approved medical use while 74% approved recreational use.
What’s unique about the Oglala Sioux’s decision is that neither medical nor recreational cannabis is legal in South Dakota. If the tribe finalizes their vote, they’ll be the only Indigenous tribe to sell cannabis in a state where it’s illegal.
Of course, the tribe will prohibit customers from taking cannabis outside of the reservation to avoid state legal action. Technically, it’s illegal for any non-tribe member to purchase cannabis, but this is unlikely to be enforced.
The Eastern Shoshone Tribe from the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming is also voting on cannabis. The tribe has plans to vote on medical marijuana, which is still illegal in Wyoming. The Northern Arapaho Tribe on the same reservation is slated to vote on cannabis late in March, too.
A number of tribes across the US have implemented regulations for medical and recreational cannabis use. As it becomes more prolific, we can expect to see more Indigenous tribes addressing cannabis use and, in all likelihood, embracing it in some form.
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