Pubdate: Sun, 11 Aug 2013
Source: Herald, The (Everett, WA)
Copyright: 2013 The Daily Herald Co.
Author: Bill Sheets
Page: A1


Possession for Medicinal Use Led to Expulsion From Reservation

TULALIP - Dennis Boon was a healthy child, he says, until he was hit 
in the head with a 7-iron.

He was 14 years old when he and some other boys were hitting Wiffle 
golf balls in eighth-grade PE class. Boon's ball rolled away, in 
front of another boy.

Boon saw the boy talking to someone else, so he thought it was safe 
to reach down and get his ball.

The boy turned around without looking and swung to hit his own ball, 
striking Boon in the head.

"It put a hole in my skull," he said.

Soon afterward, Boon started having small epileptic seizures; years 
later, he began to have larger, violent ones. The episodes took over 
his life for the next decade, said Boon, now 47.

Conventional treatments didn't help. He turned to marijuana as a remedy.

"The results were immediate," Boon said.

A Tulalip tribal member, Boon cannot lawfully use his preferred 
medication on his home reservation.

While marijuana has been legalized both for medicinal users and 
others in Washington state, it's still illegal under federal law. 
That's the law to which most Indian tribes, including the Tulalips, subscribe.

Last month, Boon was banned from the Tulalip reservation for 
possession of 240 grams of cannabis - about 8 1/2 ounces.

He's currently staying with friends in Marysville. In a year, Boon 
can petition to return, but he'll have to agree to give up using 
marijuana, a tribal spokeswoman said.

As a semi-sovereign nation under federal law, the tribes do not have 
to recognize state laws that conflict with those of the U.S. 
government, according to Robert Anderson, a law professor and 
director of the Native American Law Center at the University of Washington.

Marijuana is illegal on the Tulalip reservation without exception, 
said Niki Cleary, communications director for the tribes.

"We're bound by tribal law and federal law; we're not bound by state 
law," she said. "Remember that our people have existed as a sovereign 
since long before the United States government existed, and our 
treaty with the U.S. government predates the creation of Washington 
as a state."

Tribes basically can choose their own course in the matter, Anderson said.

"They make their own laws just like any state or county government 
does on criminal matters or civil matters," he said.

At least one tribe, the Puyallup Tribe in Pierce County, has chosen 
to follow state law regarding marijuana rather than the federal 
rules, according to a web page listing tribal laws. This includes 
recognition of medicinal pot.

At Tulalip and other reservations where federal law is followed, the 
only criminal jurisdiction the state has over tribal members is on 
land that's been deeded to a non-Indian property owner and for 
traffic incidents on public roads, Anderson said.

The Tulalip Tribes oppose legalization of marijuana, Cleary said, 
"because we, the community as a whole as well as our governing 
leadership, do not see the drug as beneficial, but rather view it as 
a harmful substance."

The tribes found Boon guilty of possession with intent to sell. This, 
Cleary said, "is the only time generally that somebody is excluded 
from the reservation. We understand that addiction is a disease and 
takes some choice away from people."

Boon said he had no intention of selling the marijuana. Police found 
the cannabis at his home in January. He was stocking up after 
receiving his tribal dividend check over the holidays, he said.

State law allows medicinal marijuana patients to possess up to 24 
ounces, or 15 plants - nearly three times the amount for which Boon 
was charged.

Boon's home was searched after a police officer visited him 
investigating a report of stolen property. Boon was not charged in that case.

While talking to Boon in front of his home, the officer detected "the 
odor of burnt marijuana," according to the charging papers. The 
officer did not search the home at the time.

Boon disputes that the smell would have been detectable outside his home.

Knowing he had someone coming over to install a carbon-monoxide 
detector, he took care to air out his place so as not to flaunt the 
marijuana or raise questions, he said.

"My girlfriend was baking cinnamon rolls," he said.

A few days later, armed with a search warrant, police came back and 
found the cannabis.

"The warrant was issued on state of Washington paperwork," Boon noted.

He said he had the marijuana properly stored according to state 
guidelines, with his doctor's recommendation prominently posted.

The crime, per tribal law, is a high-end misdemeanor. Boon faced a 
penalty of up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. He was offered a 
deal: a $100 fine and expulsion from the reservation. He accepted, he 
said, feeling he had little choice.

Boon had been living in tribal housing for people with disability 
status, for which the tribes receive federal funding - all the more 
reason that federal law be followed, according to the charging documents.

Boon points to an arrangement in which Tulalip police officers are 
cross-deputized in state law, which he says should require 
enforcement of those laws on the reservation.

"There's an oath of office in place that specifically states that 'I 
will follow all the laws of the state of Washington and protect the 
citizens within,' " he said.

Cleary said tribal officers are cross-deputized only so they can 
arrest non-tribal members if necessary.

"If there's a beating happening or someone gets shot, the police 
officer needs to be able to respond," she said.

Also, "it's to assure non-tribal members that our officers are 
trained to the same level as any other peace officer in Washington 
state, that if an officer signals you to pull over, you need to pull over."

The state law that authorizes the cross-deputization arrangement says 
the law does not supercede tribal sovereignty.

Boon's disability is primarily from old injuries he suffered during 
his seizures, he said. Boon said he operated a commercial smokehouse 
business for a grocery store chain in the Midwest for a couple of 
years and had other supervisory restaurant jobs, but recently it's 
been difficult.

"I've broken numerous bones, I've hyper-extended most of my 
appendages," he said. "It's hard for me to stand on my feet."

Boon said he had been a precocious child and a good student until the 
7-iron accident. He was living with his father in Minnesota at the time.

He had reconstructive surgery on his face, and to this day his left 
eye socket is made of Teflon, he said.

Later, while attending high school in Alaska, his teachers began to 
notice that he would seem to fade out for no reason.

They told his father that Boon "just stops in the middle of 
conversation and just stares,'" he recalled.

Tests determined that these episodes were petit mal seizures, and he 
was diagnosed with epilepsy, he said.

When he was 18, he was in a car wreck and hit his head again. Soon, 
he was having grand mal seizures with blackouts and convulsions, as 
many as seven per week.

"It's like someone over your shoulder ready to hit you with a 
baseball bat," he said. "You can't see him, you can't hear him, you 
never really know it's coming. That constant anxiety takes a toll on 
your health."

His life changed in the mid-1990s while he was studying business at 
the University of Alaska Anchorage, he said.

A neurologist referred him, on the sly, to a man who had controlled 
his own seizures by using marijuana.

When the man told Boon his story, he didn't believe it.

He remembers his response.

"'I smoke pot and I still have seizures. That's a load of crap,' " he said.

The man told Boon he had to treat it like medicine and regularly use 
small amounts to keep it in his system. He asked Boon if he could 
remember having any seizures while high.

Later, he and some family members pondered the question.

"We couldn't really think of a single time, not a one," he said. 
"From that point on, I started a different approach with the way I 
handled marijuana in my life."

He had only a few seizures in the years afterward, he said, and those 
were mild in comparison to those he had before. Now, he says, he 
hasn't had a full-blown seizure since early 2003.

"I couldn't imagine years ago that I could go 10 days (without one)," 
Boon said.

Prior to using marijuana to treat his condition, Boon's medical bills 
averaged $122,000 per year, according to his attorney, Jay Carey of 
Arlington. Since 1996, those annual costs have been about $6,000, Carey said.

Boon moved back to Tulalip permanently in 2004, partly because of the 
state's medical marijuana law, he said.

Then, three years ago, he heard tribal officials making anti-drug 
statements at the fall tribal council meeting, a semi-annual 
gathering at which tribal members meet to discuss issues and elect officers.

Boon said he felt at that point that the tribal administration 
wouldn't permit medicinal marijuana without pressure from tribal 
members at large.

"I knew that I was probably going to have to do something that I 
really didn't want to do," he said. "I was going to have to go in 
front of all of my people and say 'I'm a medicinal marijuana patient' 
and the reasons why, and I was going to have to put it to a vote. I 
was basically going to go out and put a target on my back."

At the spring 2011 tribal council meeting, Boon made a motion to 
legalize medicinal marijuana on the reservation.

He said many others spoke in favor.

Some of the comments, according to Boon, were along the lines of, 
"'You can't go five gravestones (in the tribal cemetery) without 
passing somebody who died directly from alcohol, and we're selling 
booze up here seven days a week like there's no tomorrow. I haven't 
heard of a single person ever, ever dying from marijuana, but we've 
got a graveyard full of people who died from booze,' " Boon recounted.

He felt the motion would pass, but it wasn't voted upon.

"After some discussion, another member asked to have the motion 
tabled," according to Cleary. "The motion to table carried."

Alcohol, Cleary acknowledged, "is a dichotomy that our membership and 
leadership have wrestled with for years." Other tribal members have 
brought up motions to have it banned and have been unsuccessful, she said.

Boon said he personally knows more than 40 other tribal members who 
use marijuana medicinally, but that most are afraid to make themselves known.

Boon believes police targeted him after he criticized tribal 
government at a council meeting two years ago.

"I firmly believe this has nothing to do with medical marijuana," he said.

Cleary said the fact remains that Boon broke the law. "To the best of 
my knowledge, our laws are enforced equally across the board," she said.

Boon's ban from the reservation became effective in mid-July. It'll 
be difficult, he said. For instance, he had been accompanying his 
mother as she sang at funerals.

On the property where Boon is staying with other tribal members, 
there is a sweat lodge. Made of willows tied together, it's covered 
with blankets or other material, and fire-heated stones are brought 
in. Water is poured over them, creating a sweat-inducing steam that 
helps purify the body and spirit, according to many American Indian traditions.

"I consider myself an extremely spiritual person," Boon said.

Cleary said Boon also can petition ahead of time to return to the 
reservation for cultural events and to fish or use other natural resources.

"I really do appreciate that Dennis has a dilemma," she said. Cleary 
said she knows of least one other tribal medicinal marijuana patient 
who decided to live off the reservation.

"None of this would have been an issue if he had chosen to live in 
Marysville," she said. "If you don't want to abide by the laws of a 
municipality, then don't live here."
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