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Native American Reservations Now Free To Legalize Marijuana

federal prosecutor said Thursday that the Department of Justice will no longer enforce federal marijuana law on reservations, so long as tribal councils abide by the same guidelines that states with legal marijuana must follow, Fox News reports.

The new DOJ memorandum was drafted on October 28 of this year, but was only released publicly on Thursday. What this development means is that the decision to legalize or ban marijuana will effectively be left up to tribal councils, with the exception that tribes still can’t sell to minors or allow the proceeds from sales to support organized crime. The move has struck some as being completely out of the blue, since tribal governments were not actively asking for jurisdiction over the drug.

Instead, the memorandum appears to stem from an inquiry by Oregon U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall, who was curious about DOJ policy on tribal pot bans in states which legalized marijuana. The DOJ’s response is an extension of its August 2013 policy, in which the federal government stated that it would not interfere with legalization if states maintain a few tight regulations.

Reservations are often already overrun with rampant drug use and addiction, but many will at least consider the revenue marijuana might generate alongside other successful industries like tobacco and gambling. However, the skepticism is still ever-present, especially from communities like the Hoopa Valley Tribe in California, which has begged for help from state police to eradicate pot from its territory.

“That’s been the primary message tribes are getting to us as U.S. attorneys,” Marshall said. “What will the U.S. as federal partners do to assist tribes in protecting our children and families, our tribal businesses, our tribal housing? How will you help us combat marijuana abuse in Indian Country when states are no longer there to partner with us?”

Others are thrilled at the decision to respect Native American sovereignty and emphasize marijuana’s medicinal potential over concerns of addiction.

“Having the Department of Justice take a stance honoring the sovereignty of Native American tribes when it comes to how they set their own marijuana policy is refreshing,” NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri told Marijuana.com. “The individuals living on these reservations deserve the same freedom to decide how they chose to handle marijuana on their own lands as we are currently providing the fifty states under current Justice Department memos.”

Marijuana will now be readily available for medicinal use.

“Medical access to cannabis grown on reservations could prove to be a cost-effective way for tribal nations to improve the wellness of tribal members,” Mike Liszewski of Americans for Safe Access said.

One major problem highlighted with the new policy so far is that tribes will be free to decide how they view marijuana even in states which currently ban the drug. The concern is that marijuana on reservations will likely not remain within tribal bounds, instead inevitably filtering into surrounding communities.

Follow Jonah Bennett on Twitter

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