Although the subject was not on the printed agenda for the Red Lake Tribal Council at the monthly meeting on Tuesday, January 13, 2015, recent acts by the federal government regarding American Indians and hemp and marijuana have prompted many American Indian tribes in the U.S. to explore the feasibility of growing medical marijuana and industrial hemp.
Red Lake Chairman Darrell G. Seki Sr. added the agenda item shortly after the call to order. He mentioned the federal ruling saying he felt the issue should at least be discussed. Seki cited several tribes that are looking deeper into the issue, and mentioned fewer yet that were actually taking action.
Immediately Red Lake member and Gardening Tech at Red Lake Traditional Foods David Manuel, asked to address those assembled and spoke of the economic advantages to getting involved with at least industrial hemp and possibly medical marijuana. “Give me one of those three green houses near the elementary school for a year, and I’ll give you $5 million,” said Manuel. He offered no plan nor statistics for that claim.
Nearly everyone on the 11-member tribal council weighed in, including several chiefs and Red Lake members seated in the audience. Discussion ran the gamut from favorable to cautionary for both industrial hemp and medicinal marijuana.
Council member Roman Stately said toward the end of the discussion, that he “knew very little about either hemp or marijuana. We need a feasibility study. Let’s learn about it.” Several councilors and members concurred that they just were not familiar with the issue, and that the tribe should explore the matter from a legal, economic and other issues surrounding the federal memo.
It was then moved and seconded, then passed unanimously to direct Red Lake Economic Development and Legal Departments to conduct a feasibility study and fact-finding mission on the issue and report back to council at an unspecified time.
Seki emphasized that whatever the outcome, no resolutions or tribal laws will be enacted without consultation with the membership both in informational meetings and eventually in a referendum—a vote of the entire nation. “Whatever we do, it will be done very carefully,” he said.
Seki, who holds informational and brainstorming sessions in each of the four Red Lake communities from time to time, said the next series of community meetings will be conducted over a two-week period in February, and that he will add the issue to the agenda and encouraged all Red Lake members to participate in that and all issues of concern to the tribe.
About a month ago in early December, seemingly out of nowhere, the federal government released a three-page memo announcing that the federal government will not prosecute Native Americans growing and selling marijuana on tribal lands, even in states where the drug is illegal.
So will dispensaries become the new casinos? Maybe not. Many tribal leaders found the announcement surprising and suspicious.
Most have nothing against cannabis, and expressed interest in the business opportunity. “I’d rather see the guys on the reservation using marijuana that hooked on alcohol,” said one tribal leader.
There appears to be concern that the vagueness of the language will open the door to unnecessary prosecution—especially since in one part of the memo, the Department of Justice mentions that the state attorneys general will still have the authority to stop criminal activity on tribal land. (NOT the case at Red Lake as being a “closed reservation” is exempt from state law and answers only to the U.S. Congress)
According to the memo, originally dated and sent on October 28, U.S. attorneys will prosecute marijuana sales on tribal land according to the same guidelines they have adopted for the states—focusing on keeping marijuana out of the hands of organized crime, away from children and not diverting it to states where marijuana remains illegal.
The Chairman’s Upcoming Community Meetings:
Little Rock – Wednesday, February 11, 2015 at 6 p.m.
Red Lake – Wednesday, February, 18, 2015 at 6 p.m.
Redby – Monday, February, 23, 2015 at 6 p.m.
Ponemah – Wednesday, February, 25, 2015 at 6 p.m.