Pubdate: Wed, 04 Mar 2015
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2015 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Mark Higgins


When it comes to marijuana, Washington comes off as the granny state 
of recreational pot when compared with Colorado. Let's face it, the 
rollout here has been glacial.

As of last week, Seattle had just nine state-licensed stores. Nine.

But change is coming to this state's nascent marijuana experiment. A 
major player is poised to enter the market.

Some of this state's most business-savvy Native American tribes are 
evaluating the risks and opportunity to grow or sell marijuana, as 
well as the relatively untapped potential in medical-marijuana research.

The tribe that patents the first major breakthroughs in using 
marijuana extracts to treat cancer patients or other chronic ailments 
could hit the mother lode in pharmaceutical revenue.

What all this means for Washington is that, in time, tribes could be 
a major influence in legalized marijuana. They have the capital and 
business acumen to grow the market while keeping prices competitive, 
something that will appeal to some medical-marijuana patients and 
perhaps put a dent in the black market.

It was the U.S. Department of Justice that opened the door to tribes. 
While again reminding us that marijuana is illegal, the DOJ recently 
announced that federally recognized tribes can grow, process or sell 
pot on tribal land. If they do so, the DOJ warned, they had better 
enforce robust regulations and keep it out of the hands of minors and 
prevent the revenue from reaching organized crime.

With millions of dollars already being spent on recreational pot, it 
was only a matter of time before the tribes asserted their right to 
enter the market. After all, they have had negotiated agreements with 
this state on gambling, tobacco, liquor and gasoline.

And urban tribes such as the Puyallup, Muckleshoot and Tulalip Tribes 
have shown a remarkable knack at diversifying their portfolios with 
hotels, restaurants and nightclubs. The Muckleshoot Tribe recently 
bought the Emerald Downs racetrack.

As John Weymer, a liaison for the Puyallup Tribe, put it, "This 
tribe, being urban, is very interested in economic development and 
diversification. We're opening a restaurant, we operate five gas 
stations, we support jobs for tribal members and the community and, 
yes, marijuana will create jobs and an incentive to look at 
production or retail sale of marijuana."

So now is the time for the state to act. Lawmakers already are busy 
trying to merge the tightly regulated world of legal pot with the 
Wild Wild West world of medical marijuana. Now they must add tribal 
pot to the thorny mix.

State Reps. Chris Hurst, DEnumclaw, and Cary Condotta, R-East 
Wenatchee, are pushing HB 2000, which would create a structure for 
the tribes and the state Liquor Control Board to negotiate on all 
manner of pot regulation and taxation.

The risk, Hurst said, would be if the Legislature didn't take action 
and tribes went their own way. "I'm not sure how we would be able to 
weave this system back together," he said.

The Suquamish Tribe of Kitsap County recently stated the obvious: It 
doesn't need state approval to enter the marijuana market. But in 
correspondence with the Liquor Control Board, it noted it would be 
best for both sides to work together.

State Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, says the issue of legalizing 
marijuana is percolating through tribes statewide. Not all are 
interested, but for those that are, most agree it would be best to 
work with the state, McCoy said. "Tribes are comfortable with the 
compact process. It's a win-win."

As for the Tulalip Tribes, McCoy said, no decision on pot has been made.

Seattle lawyer Hilary Bricken, who specializes in cannabis law, 
predicts marijuana on tribal lands is going to be big. Two California 
tribes already have contacted her firm, Harris Moure, she said. One 
wanted to partner with a University of California branch on 
medical-marijuana cancer research. The other envisioned a casino and 
pot resort where guests could tour grow facilities and enjoy 
"cannagourmet" cuisine.

Last week, Bricken's firm and Odawi Law co-sponsored the first tribal 
marijuana conference at Tulalip Resort Casino. Some 400 people 
representing more than 75 tribes from 35 states attended. Next week 
in Las Vegas, tribes will meet again to discuss creating a Tribal 
Leaders Cannabis Association.

For the state of Washington, getting out in front of this and working 
with the tribes is not only the smart thing to do, it's imperative.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom