And they’re not all coming up with the same answers.
“We have a tendency to generalize Native America or Indian country,” said Cristala Mussato-Allen, founder and executive director of Native Workplace Inc. “There are 560 recognized tribes. We’re not all the same. We’re very individual communities.”
Mussato-Allen was one of four panelists who discussed the Native American cannabis and hemp movement at the National Cannabis Chamber of Commerce’s recent Indo Expo conference in Denver.
“We’re all really, really engaged,” Mussato-Allen said. “We’re all talking about this . . . there’s a lot of conversation about it inside the community.”
“We want to make medicine for sick people,” she said. “The other thing we want to focus on is long-term economic development and job creation. This is one of the main reasons tribes are looking at this.”
“Tribes can be a major influence in medical cannabis,” said panelist Sharon Pomeranz, tribal law attorney for a New Mexico company called Tribes Can.
Some tribes are moving cautiously, she said, because they’re not sure whether they can legally grow and dispense cannabis on native lands. Her answer? Yes, they can.
“The federal government didn’t issue a memo offering tribes any guidance or help” about whether they could open casinos on tribal land, she noted. “When tribes went ahead and started doing casinos, I remember that first individual who said he was going to plug in that slot machine and pull the handle. The feds said ‘you can’t do it’ and he did it. And nothing happened.”
“I’m advising my tribal clients that if they write a good code and if they strictly regulate and they follow the principles of the (Department of Justice) memo (outling federal cannabis guidelines) and they are a federally recognized tribe” then can grow and sell cannabis on tribal land.
Martin Tindall, executive director of Phoenix Pharms Capital Corp. advised tribes to “take it slowly. Don’t jump into it. Don’t be in a hurry on it. If you wait until next month or the month after, clarity comes. But at the same time, you don’t want to not be on that boat.”
“A lot of tribes obviously recognize this opportunity and they recognize the possibility that given the certain sovereign benefits that tribes have might lead this to be a huge tribal opportunity,” said Demitri Downing, president and CEO of the lobbying firm PolicyQuake.
And, like the other panelists, he said it’s a mistake to assume the tribes are all the same when it comes to cannabis.
The Flandreau Sioux of South Dakota were the first tribe to legalize the growing and selling of cannabis in a state that hasn’t legalized cannabis for either medical or recreational use. There’s another Sioux tribe that feels much differently, Downing said. “They have a particular word in that Sioux tribe for marijuana and that word is ‘bad medicine.'”