Pubdate: Fri, 26 Dec 2014
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2014 Associated Press
Authors: Felicia Fonseca and Matthew Brown, Associated Press


Flagstaff, Ariz. (AP) - The Navajo Nation had bitter debates when it 
was deciding whether to allow casinos on the reservation and whether 
alcohol should be sold in them. The arguments focused on the revenue 
and jobs that casinos and liquor could bring to a community in which 
half the workforce is unemployed and most arrests and pervasive 
social ills are linked to alcohol abuse.

When the federal government announced this month that it would allow 
Native American tribes to grow and sell marijuana, the divisive 
discussions returned. The tribal president's office talked about 
expanding crops to include marijuana for medicinal but not 
recreational use, while a tribal lawmaker quickly declared his opposition.

"Criminal activity is just going to go up more, and drug addiction is 
going to go up more, and everyone is going to be affected," said 
Edmund Yazzie, head of the Navajo Nation Council's Law and Order Committee.

The split reaction among Navajo leaders reflects divisions on 
reservations around the country. While the Navajo and a number of 
other tribes ultimately ventured into the casino business, many say 
they are inclined to avoid marijuana as a potential revenue booster 
amid deep sensitivity over rampant alcoholism, poverty, crime and 
joblessness on tribal lands.

Marijuana is not tied to tribal culture, like tobacco commonly used 
in religious ceremonies, and any pot-growing operation would run 
counter to the message that tribes have preached for decades that 
drugs and alcohol ruin lives, said Carl Artman, a former Bureau of 
Indian Affairs assistant secretary who is a member of the Oneida 
Tribe in Wisconsin.

"When you look at what tribes have to offer - from gaming to 
ecotourism to looking out over the Grand Canyon, just bringing people 
out on the reservation for art or culture - this is not one of the 
things they would normally want," Artman said. "It harks back to 
something that's archaic and stereotypical as opposed to what the 
modern-day Indian is about."

But it has piqued the interest of some of the country's 566 federally 
recognized tribes, including tribes in Washington state, the Dakotas, 
Connecticut and Colorado, as well as the Navajo Nation, which 
stretches into New Mexico, Utah and Arizona.

Lance Morgan, a member of the Winnebago Tribe who manages an Indian 
law firm in Nebraska, said he has had about a dozen requests from 
tribes looking for a legal framework for getting into the marijuana 
business. The overall poverty rate for Native American and Alaska 
Natives in 2010 was 28 percent, according to census data, but it can 
be much greater in individual tribal communities.

"It's something everyone is talking about," he said.

But he said tribes are treading carefully, and he thinks that most of 
them will decide against getting into the marijuana business.

Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux in North 
Dakota and South Dakota, said that his tribe might consider 
cultivating marijuana's nonintoxicating cousin, hemp, but that the 
federal government would have to allow interstate transport for it to 
be a profitable venture. Hemp is used to make clothing, lotion and 
other products, but growing it is illegal under federal law.

"We've always thought we had the sovereign right" to grow marijuana, 
Archambault said. "But once you try to transport it interstate, 
federal law discourages it."

In Colorado and Washington state, which legalized recreational pot in 
2012, some tribes got a head start on talks about marijuana sales.

The 1,100-member Suquamish Tribe near Seattle began considering the 
potential business opportunities in April. But Washington's liquor 
board, which regulates pot sales, initially said it would not grant 
the tribe a license until federal officials clarified their position 
regarding pot on reservations.

Liquor board spokesman Brian Smith said the state will revisit the 
issue in light of the Justice Department's new policy.

North of Seattle, the Tulalip Tribe voted to pursue discussions on 
allowing medical marijuana, tribal spokeswoman Niki Cleary said. The 
tribe's views have been evolving, she said, noting that even a vote 
on medical pot would have resulted in an automatic no in the past.

The owner of one of the country's largest resort casinos, the Mohegan 
Tribe in Connecticut, didn't rule it out, either. Spokesman Chuck 
Bunnell said the tribe is looking at opportunities to expand into new 
markets that would not jeopardize any current investments.

While the Justice Department provided a path for tribes to grow and 
sell marijuana, federal officials cautioned that they won't allow all 
tribal members to start pot businesses. Mike Cotter, a U.S. attorney 
in Montana who helped craft the agency's policy, said federal law 
enforcement would respond if a tribal pot industry became linked with 
organized criminal elements, firearms, sales to minors or similar 
abuses - the same federal conditions laid out for states that have 
legalized the drug.

Among the questions tribes still have regarding the industry is 
whether limits would be placed on how much marijuana could be grown 
and sold, whether it can be transported off reservations and whether 
taxes apply.

Yazzie, of the Navajo Nation law enforcement panel, said he would 
push his colleagues to say no to any marijuana sales or growth on the 
vast reservation.

He was among the most vocal lawmakers when the Tribal Council was 
deciding whether to allow alcohol at the tribe's first casino in New 
Mexico. He questioned his colleagues on whether money was more 
important than human life, considering most arrests for major 
incidents on the reservation involve alcohol.

The bill was decided by two votes in 2008 making casinos and a lake 
marina the only exceptions for alcohol sales and consumption on the 
otherwise dry reservation. Navajos twice voted against gambling on 
the reservation before approving it in 2004.

"What is going on?" Yazzie said. "We're having bad issue problems 
with alcohol, and now if we legalize marijuana, it's just another fight."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom