Pubdate: Sun, 08 Feb 2015
Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (MN)
Copyright: 2015 Star Tribune
Author: Jennifer Brooks


Tribe Could Become State's First to Grow and Sell Marijuana on Its Lands

Indian tribes have the right to legalize marijuana on their own 
lands, the federal government now says.

At least one Minnesota tribe may do just that.

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa announced in January that it will study 
the idea legalizing medical marijuana and industrial hemp on the 
reservation north of Bemidji.

"Whatever we do, it will be done very carefully," Red Lake Chairman 
Darrell Seki Sr. announced after the Red Lake Tribal Council voted 
Jan. 13 to conduct a feasibility study into the economic benefits - 
and potential risks - of getting into the cannabis business. Seki 
will conduct a series of community meetings around the Red Lake 
Nation throughout February.

Medical marijuana will be legal in Minnesota starting July 1. But it 
will be a strictly limited and tightly controlled program. Only 
patients with certain medical conditions will be able to buy the 
drug, only in the form of a pill or a liquid, and only at one of 
eight dispensaries around the state.

Minnesota tribes would face no such restrictions if they decided to 
set up their own marijuana dispensaries. Late last year, the U.S. 
Department of Justice announced that Indian tribes - like the four 
states that have legalized recreational marijuana - are free to grow 
and sell marijuana on their reservations.

"They are their own jurisdiction and they can control what they do on 
their own land," said Assistant Health Commissioner Manny 
Munson-Regala, who is overseeing the rollout of the Minnesota Medical 
Cannabis Program.

The Health Department has reached out to Red Lake with an offer to 
share some of its own hard-earned insights about how to launch a 
medical marijuana program, Munson-Regala said. Just as the department 
turned to other states with medical marijuana programs to figure out 
such things as: how to evaluate the rival companies that want to grow 
and sell the drug, how to ensure the product is safe and the 
greenhouses and dispensaries are secure, and how to get the drug into 
the hands of patients while keeping it out of hands of kids.

"They might be interested in how we're implementing our program," he 
said. "Hey, maybe there's data we can both collectively gather and share."

Late last year, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a new 
federal policy that would allow tribes interested in growing and 
selling marijuana to do so. Like the four states that have legalized 
recreational marijuana, the tribes would risk a federal crackdown 
only if they failed to set up strict regulations to keep the drug out 
of the hands of minors and ensure it would not be a cause of criminal 
activity or source of revenue for criminals.

Both marijuana and hemp - a buzz-free variety of cannabis that can be 
used to make everything from rope and clothing to oils and cosmetics 
- - are potentially lucrative cash crops. Colorado, which legalized 
recreational marijuana last year, brought in an estimated $58.7 
million taxes and fees on the drug in the first year alone.

But Red Lake will be weighing more than the economics of the 
decision. Legalizing marijuana in any form raises questions on a 
reservation that doesn't even allow the sale of alcohol. Many members 
are also wary of drawing outside law enforcement scrutiny.

Seki has been deluged with calls from media and eager entrepreneurs 
since the study was announced.

Once the Red Lake economic development office and legal department 
complete a feasibility study - and there is no timeline for that yet 
- - it would be up for tribe members to have the final say. Before 
anything would be legalized, Seki pledged, the matter would be put to 
a tribal referendum.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom