Pubdate: Sat, 28 Feb 2015
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2015 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Evan Bush


First Such Gathering

Event Offered Debate and Education on Merits of Legalization

Hundreds of tribal leaders, lawyers and marijuana-industry 
representatives gathered in Tulalip on Friday for the nation's first 
tribal marijuana conference, an event that served as much as a policy 
debate on the merits of legalization as it did an educational session.

More than 60 tribes from at least 25 states were represented, said 
Erica Curnutte, who organized the event.

Publicly, tribes have been wary of entering the marijuana market 
after the Department of Justice released a policy memo saying tribes 
could grow and sell marijuana.

Marijuana business was described by one proponent, Nevada state Sen. 
Tick Segerblom, as a "gold mine" in one session, and in another as a 
venture into unsettled legal space that will likely pay better for 
lawyers than those assuming the risk.

Robert Odawi Porter, a lawyer who specializes in tribal government 
sovereignty, said the landscape of patchwork state, federal and 
tribal laws that govern marijuana in Indian country is messy, but 
could be profitable.

"It's not simple, it's not clear. If anyone tells you it is, they're 
either foolish or lying to you," said Porter. "If there's business to 
be had and money to be made, the last thing we want is to be sitting 
and watching this happen."

Moreover, said Porter, it will depend on where tribes are located.

"This is extremely fact-specific, law-specific to the tribe and state 
you're in," he said. For example, Porter said, Congress has given 
some states criminal jurisdiction on tribal lands.

Porter said tribes' experience in the gambling industry, with its 
strict regulatory systems that require constant interaction with 
other governments, will help.

"Tribes are involved in complicated exercises of power," said Porter. 
"We can set up regulatory schemes better than even some states."

Porter's law practice, Odawi Law, hosted the event along with Hilary 
Bricken and Robert McVay of Harris Moure, a Seattle firm that 
specializes in marijuana law.

Two prominent city attorneys evidenced the difficulty of setting up a 
strictly regulated system, however. Seattle City Attorney Pete 
Holmes, a staunch marijuana advocate, and Tom Carr, the incumbent 
Holmes defeated in the 2009 election, spoke at length about the 
struggles they've faced implementing policy. Carr is now city 
attorney in Boulder, Colo.

Holmes said there are about 10 times as many unregulated, unlicensed 
medical-marijuana businesses operating in Seattle more than seven 
months after Washington's state system launched. He also told the 
attendees "despite incredible new freedom, there are people who 
flaunt and display (marijuana consumption)."

Carr said Boulder, home to the University of Colorado, faces 
difficulty keeping pot out of the hands of college-age users. In 
Colorado, people under 21 must be authorized by a doctor to use 
marijuana. He noted 94 percent of medical-marijuana patients cite 
"severe pain" as their qualifying condition.

"We have a lot of college students in Boulder with severe pain," said Carr.

Both city attorneys said marijuana lounges would help curb public 
consumption, as bars do with alcohol consumption.

Tribal leaders said the conference, which cost $605 to attend, was a 
useful education in pot policy.

Bob Iyall, the CEO of the Nisqually Indian Tribe's board of economic 
development, said he attended because a number of tribal members had 
expressed interest. He called it a "micro step" toward a possible 
tribal decision on marijuana business.

"It could be a moneymaker," said Michael Mason, who works in planning 
and economic development for the Nisqually tribe. "Even with that 
said, there are so many variables a tribe has to be concerned about."

"There are still a lot of bugs to be worked out," added Iyall, who 
has been following news of Washington's experiment with a 
state-licensed marijuana system.

Many tribal leaders expressed concerns over sovereignty, drug impacts 
and youth access.

"It's going to take a lot of work to convince our elders. It's going 
to take a lot of work to protect our kids," Henry Cagey, a council 
member of the Lummi Nation, told the audience. Cagey said it was 
imperative to work together to figure out the industry.

"The states are already doing it. This isn't a new industry. We're 
playing catch up," said Cagey.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom