Pubdate: Fri, 25 Sep 2015
Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
Copyright: 2015 The Press Democrat
Author: Glenda Anderson


Native American tribes' efforts to cash in on California's "green 
rush" by launching large-scale marijuana growing operations appear to 
have been premature and ill-advised if recent law enforcement raids 
on tribal lands are any indication.

Pot raids conducted on the Pinoleville Pomo Nation's Rancheria north 
of Ukiah this week and on the Pit River and Alturas tribes' 
properties in Modoc County in July serve as reminders that such 
endeavors remain mired in a morass of laws that continue to make 
cannabis cultivation a risky business.

"It's a cautionary tale," said Anthony Broadman, an attorney with 
Galanda Broadman, a Seattle-based, Native American-owned law firm 
that represents tribes.

"It's too bad to see people going in without really understanding the 
rules," said Dale Gieringer, of California NORML, the National 
Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws.

On Tuesday, the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office seized 382 pot 
plants from Pinoleville tribal land and more than 100 pounds of 
processed marijuana inside a leased building where marijuana was 
being converted into concentrated pot products. The federal law 
enforcement crackdown on cannabis cultivation operations on the Pit 
River and Alturas tribes' properties in July yielded more than 12,000 
plants and 100 pounds of processed marijuana, according to the U.S. 
Attorney's Office.

Pinoleville tribal leaders say it's the sheriff who doesn't know the 
rules and they vowed to fight back.

"We believe the sheriff has overstepped his authority, violated 
tribal sovereignty and acted outside of his legal jurisdiction," 
Angela James, tribal vice-chairwoman, said in a statement Thursday. 
"Our cannabis collective is a lawfully organized, nonprofit 
organization which is subject to tribal law." She said the tribe 
plans to pursue "legal remedies" against the Sheriff's Office.

The Pinoleville and Modoc County cases are indicators of how tribes 
may be confused by murky marijuana laws or convinced to take on 
dubious projects by unscrupulous outsiders seeking to take advantage 
of potentially more lenient regulations on tribal lands, which are 
exempt from local regulations but not criminal laws, Broadman said.

Pinoleville officials contend their marijuana operation falls under 
regulatory, not criminal codes.

Marijuana growing in California has been plagued by a confusing mix 
of sometimes-conflicting rules since medical marijuana was legalized 
in 1996. The laws "remain muddy," Broadman said.

Newly passed legislation aimed at licensing, regulating and taxing 
medical marijuana is expected to go into effect within a year, 
clarifying pot cultivation and sales rules in the state. There are 
multiple initiatives vying for the 2016 ballot that would ask voters 
to legalize recreational use of marijuana.

The Pinoleville and Modoc tribes appear to have jumped the gun, Gieringer said.

Further complicating any state rules is the fact marijuana 
cultivation remains illegal for any use under federal law. While the 
Obama administration has said that enforcing federal marijuana laws 
is not a priority as long as growers remain within reasonable 
parameters and state laws, that could change with the next election, 
Broadman said.

Law enforcement officers believe there are a few clear rules. One is 
that it currently is illegal to grow pot for profit in California. 
Mendocino County Sheriff's Capt. Greg Van Patten has noted that 
Pinoleville tribal leaders have said publicly and to officers that 
their pot operation was aimed at least partly at generating money to 
fund tribal projects. Van Patten said the size of the operation also 
was an indicator that the tribe and its financial backers in the 
operation were out to make a profit.

To launch a profit-making operation before it's legal in the state is 
"absolutely" misguided, he said.

The 400-some plants grown this summer were just the beginning of the 
tribe's plan. Pinoleville's backers earlier this year said the 
operation - much like the Modoc enterprises - would be producing 
"thousands" of plants inside greenhouses covering 110,000 square 
feet. It's unclear why the operation ended up being much smaller than 
initially envisioned, but the tribe repeatedly had been warned by the 
sheriff to grow smaller amounts. Neither tribal leaders nor the 
Kansas City-based investor financing the proposal - Barry Brautman - 
could be reached by phone this week to explain the change. Brautman 
and United Cannabis Corp., a marijuana research and development 
company supplying plants and overseeing growing operations, stopped 
working with the tribe about a month ago, said Mike Canales, who sits 
on the tribe's business board and who has been instrumental in 
launching the pot project. Canales, who is not a member of the tribe, 
said the split had something to do with tribal regulations, but did 
not explain further.

Both the Mendocino and Modoc operations were initiated by investors 
from outside the state.

Financing for the marijuana operation overseen by the tiny Alturas 
tribe - estimated at five members - is believed to have come from 
Jerry Montour, CEO of a Canada-based cigarette company, according to 
the federal search warrant affidavit. Montour has a 1988 conviction 
in Canada for conspiracy to smuggle marijuana into the country from 
Mexico, according to a Sacramento Bee article. In 2013, he was sued 
by the New York attorney general as part of a crackdown on 
out-of-state Native American cigarette manufacturers and suppliers 
who allegedly were skirting their tax debts, according to the Albany 
Times Union.

Cases like this confirm the fears of many tribal attorneys that, 
lured by the promise of big profits, tribes are "being sold a bill of 
goods" by outsiders, Broadman said.

He's concerned that tribes who overstep the boundaries of marijuana 
regulations now will have trouble finding backers for legitimate 
projects in the future.

"What kind of responsible outside investors are they going to 
attract?" Broadman asked.

He recommends that tribes interested in getting into marijuana 
production wait until regulations are in place, study the regulations 
thoroughly and follow them closely. The Suquamish tribe in Washington 
state, where regulatory procedures already are in place for cannabis 
cultivation, has entered into a compact with the state, protecting it 
from prosecution at least by that state, he said.

Such precautions make marijuana cultivation safer, but not fail-safe, 
Broadman said.

"The beginning and ending of the story is marijuana remains illegal 
(under federal law). And no lawyer can tell their client otherwise," he said.
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