Pubdate: Sun, 21 Dec 2014
Source: Ada Evening News, The (OK)
Copyright: 2014 The Ada Evening News
Author: Janelle Stecklein, CNHI State Reporter


OKLAHOMA CITY - Despite getting the federal government's go-ahead to
grow and sell marijuana, local tribes are showing little interest in
expanding into the trade.

If they did, says one expert in Native American affairs, it would
raise a tangle of questions involving tribal and state law that are
unique to Oklahoma.

State leaders have outlawed marijuana - its growth, possession or use
- - and violators face prison. But the 39 federally recognized tribes
here have a way around that. A Justice Department memo published last
week cites tribal sovereignty as grounds to allow the cultivation of
marijuana on their land.

No tribes in Oklahoma have publicly expressed an interest in doing so.
That's likely because many wrestle with drug and substance abuse,
without adding legalized marijuana to the mix, said Taiawagi Helton, a
University of Oklahoma law professor who specializes in federal Indian

"I know of no Oklahoma tribes that have even remotely found this to be
an attractive idea," Helton said.

Unlike tribes elsewhere, those in Oklahoma often "share the political
ideals of their neighbors and aren't tempted by this," he added.

Oklahomans by and large oppose legalized marijuana - despite recent
decisions in a handful of other states to do so. Voter-led petitions
for two legalization referendums failed to garner enough support to
even put the questions on the November ballot.

Should a tribe decide to go into the business of buying and selling
consumer-grade marijuana, he said, the broad federal ruling could
cause issues for Oklahoma, which has a complex checkerboard of tribal
land as well as strict state laws outlawing all marijuana.

The federal decision would apply to all lands set aside for tribes -
regardless of whether that land is classified as a reservation, he

Helton said enforcement of state marijuana laws would be complicated,
and it would take considerable effort, and possibly litigation, to
sort out jurisdictional issues. Tucked within existing tribal
boundaries, he noted, are patches of land not owned by those tribes or
its members.

Practically that would mean marijuana customers could inadvertently
walk across a street, crossing from an area where marijuana possession
is legal into state jurisdiction where it isn't tolerated.

Helton doesn't think that marijuana could be consumed or possessed on
Indian land in Oklahoma by a non-tribal member because it would be in
violation of state marijuana law.

Mark Woodward, a spokesman for the state Bureau of Narcotics and
Dangerous Drugs, said the ruling raises many questions.

"We're not naive enough to think it would stay on tribal land," he
said. "Obviously we would have concerns about how these tribes would
enforce it to make sure it doesn't make it across to state property."

"You can imagine how overwhelmingly complicated those things could
be," he said.

For other purposes, Oklahoma's tribes have neatly managed to sidestep
jurisdictional issues through compacts and tax agreements.

Many across the state were shocked by the Justice Department memo, but
Helton said it seemed to fall in line with a federal strategy of
treating tribes as states.

"It's consistent with the overall framework, but it surprised me
because I didn't think anybody was talking about the topic," he said.

As written, the Justice Department opinion is open to some
interpretation, he said. Some attorneys read it as applying to every
tribe, while others say it narrowly applies to those in states where
marijuana is legal.

Also, the memo addresses the cultivation and sale - but not use - of
the drug in states where marijuana is illegal, he said.
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