WASHINGTON – A US Justice Department memorandum released Thursday to US attorneys across the country set forth guidelines which will allow American Indian tribes to put in motion the ability to grow and sell marijuana on tribal lands legally.
The memorandum, dated October 28, 2014, but not made public until Thursday, stated U.S. attorneys will review tribal marijuana policies on a case-by-case basis and that prosecutors retain the right to enforce federal law.
“Each U.S. attorney will assess the threats and circumstances in his or her district, and consult closely with tribal partners and the Justice Department when significant issues or enforcement decisions arise in this area,” the memorandum reads.
It is still a federal crime to possess marijuana in the United States. However, with a number of states that have legalized recreational marijuana usage, the Justice Department issued a statement similar to one it issued in October 2013 to states where marijuana usage has become legal.
It was not clear Thursday how many tribes may be interested in allowing for legalization of marijuana on tribal lands.
Two of the largest land-based Indian reservations, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota and the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, prohibit the sale of alcohol on tribal lands.
Other tribes may see marijuana sales as a means of economic development. Since banks have generally not been interested in financing marijuana enterprises in states that have legalized its usage, tribes with casinos that have positive cash-flow may find marijuana as a means to further the tribe’s economic development opportunities.
Tribes are sovereign nations; therefore, have the ability to set forth their own laws regarding growing and distribution of marijuana with the release of yesterday’s Justice Department memorandum.