Tribes Excluded from Legal Pot May Rival California Cannabis Industry

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LOS ANGELES — Native American Indian tribes have been left out of the burgeoning marijuana industry in California, and some tribes are now considering cultivating and selling marijuana to compete with the state-regulated system, according to ABC News.   

The marijuana market in California is expected to earn more than $ 6.5 billion by the year 2020, with a growth rate of 23 percent per year. The state is expected to collect more than $1 billion annually from tax revenue generated from legal marijuana sales.  

Competition with the tribes would put a large dent in those figures. There are at least 100 different tribes in California, and at least 20 tribes are considering competing with the state-run regulated marijuana industry.  

Tribe leaders are considering growing and selling marijuana on reservations because negotiations between the state and tribes never came to an agreement regarding Native Americans' right to sovereign authority. Tribal lawyer Mark Levitan said that tribes would have to give up their rights to govern themselves in order to operate within the state-regulated system.   

GB Sciences Inc. has invested $8 million to build a company on tribal lands near San Diego that will be cultivating marijuana and manufacturing cannabis products for sale. The Nevada company's project is on hold while the issues between the state and tribes are worked out. 

Sovereignty of Tribes Is Threatened by Regulations 

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The issue is complicated because businesses that aren't licensed by the state cannot legally cultivate or sell marijuana, but for tribes to get a license, they would have to submit to regulations and allow law enforcement on the reservations. Several tribes have proposed a pact with Gov. Jerry Brown that would permit tribes to join the marijuana market and grant the tribes exclusive authority to self-govern.  

Chairwoman of the Benton Paiute Tribe in Mono County, Tina Braithwaite, says that forcing the tribes to have a license amounts to discrimination because it excludes Native Americans from joining the marijuana market, adding, “I feel strongly that if it’s legal for the state, it should be legal for the tribes.” Threatening Native Americans' sovereignty is a reminder of the country's dreadful history.   

Braithwaite said that the marijuana industry can significantly help the economy in the community and provide security. Onetime chairman of the Bishop Paiute tribe, Paul Chaves, said that Native Americans just want to be able to do business like everyone else in the state.  

Some tribes in Washington have negotiated pacts with the state to legally cultivate and sell marijuana without state regulation, and tribes in California want to do the same. Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) is helping to negotiate between the tribes and the state in Sacramento, but even if they come to an agreement, federal laws are still an issue for reservations.  

Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked the policy that provided states with legal marijuana protection from federal prosecution in January. The policy had also protected tribal lands from federal law enforcement. Police have already closed down many marijuana businesses on reservations. One business that was closed was a cannabis resort in South Dakota, according to Rolling Stone magazine. 

Native American tribes in Wisconsin are also demanding equal rights. The St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin brought a lawsuit against the State of Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel for threatening to interfere in tribe's cannabidiol program and prosecute people residing on reservations.  

The tribe argues that cannabinol is legal in Wisconsin for medicinal purposes and that they should be able to benefit from it the same as the state does without interference from the State Attorney General.