Obama to Native Americans: Marijuana Legalization Is A-OK

In a completely unexpected move by the Obama Administration, the US Department of Justice released a memo on October 28 indicating to Native American tribes that they can engage in cannabis commerce–cultivation, processing and retail sales–as long as they comport with the existing eight rules put forward in a previous August 2013 Obama Administration memo allowing states the autonomy to develop cannabis-based businesses in states where voters have passed binding ballot initiatives or elected policymakers have passed reform legislation.

  • Distribution of marijuana to minors
  • Revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels
  • Diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal to states where it remains illegal
  • State-authorized marijuana activity being used as a cover for trafficking other illegal drugs or activity
  • Violence or the use of firearms as part of cultivation and distribution of marijuana
  • Drugged driving or the exacerbation of other negative health consequences associated with marijuana use
  • Growing marijuana on public lands
  • Marijuana possession or use on federal property

US News writes that “there are 326 federally recognized American Indian reservations, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Many reservations are in states that don’t allow marijuana for medical or recreational use, such as Oklahoma, Utah and the Dakotas. Others are located near major East Coast cities and far from legal pot stores in the West.

“The tribes have the sovereign right to set the code on their reservations,” U.S. attorney for North Dakota Timothy Purdon, chairman of the Attorney General’s Subcommittee on Native American Issues, told the Times.

In a statement, the Department of Justice said U.S. attorneys will review tribal marijuana policies on a case-by-case basis and that prosecutors retain the right to enforce federal law.

“Each U.S. attorney will assess the threats and circumstances in his or her district, and consult closely with tribal partners and the Justice Department when significant issues or enforcement decisions arise in this area,” the statement says. 

Read the DOJ memo allowing Native American tribes to regulate cannabis-related businesses here.

A detailed map of Native American tribes is found here.

63 thoughts

  1. Several years ago, a member of one of the Indian tribes tried to grow hemp on his land. A mass of armed federal agents invaded the reservation and stole his crop, on more than one occasion. You would expect the Feds to be assiduously cautious about screwing over the Native Americans yet AGAIN, but not so with the drug war zealots.

    Glad to see this happening.

    Now, where’d I put my peace pipe?

  2. This ruling is going to make for lots of fun! Indians already run casinos, sell fireworks that are illegal in many places and don’t forget the bargain cigarette prices from not having those state taxes on them!

    Now it’s the devil weed, coming to a reservation near you and I sure hope all those Republican states which will not legalize MJ in a million years get overrun by tokin’ and smokin’ Indian pot shops.

    There’s gonna be some real upset applecarts real soon!

  3. Getting past the fact that this is another “memo law,” they’re treating people differently on the basis of race, and violating their Second Amendment rights.

    This is outrageous. End the unconstitutional Prohibition now.

  4. President Obama – Salute!

    Isn’t it sad, almost unbelievable, that not long ago, a native American mother of 4 was sentenced to 10 years in prison for selling an undercover dirtbag $30 worth of weed. This happened in Nazi Oklahoma; one of the last places on the planet where I’d want to live.

  5. 1. Not exactly trivial department: the Cole Memorandum was issued on what would have been Michael Jackson’s (yes that Michael Jackson) 55th birthday. Michael Jackson allegedly died from legal pharmaceutical drugs administered in supposed good faith by a licensed physician– in lieu of cannabis which some believe could have assisted him better or less dangerously.

    Michael Jackson expressed concern– some say to extremes– for the welfare and education of young children throughout his career, having been a prodigy himself subject to various influences and temptations. The first point on the Cole Memorandum aims to hinder “Distribution of Marijuana to Minors”. Examine this issue briefly.

    1. An estimated 800,000 mostly young Americans get addicted to nicotine $igarettes yearly (possibly over 15,000,000 a year worldwide) with an estimated prognosis of 40% chance of premature death as outcome– not to mention US Surgeon General 2014 estimate of $289-Bil. yearly cost to US economy of “$moking-related illne$$es”… what if early access to cannabis INSTEAD OF tobacco, paired with introduction to VAPORIZATION and 25-mg microdosage utensils, resulted in reducing that yearly en$lavement figure by half or more? Worth the risk that a few thousand might get “addicted” to marijuana?

    (Mind, I don’t buy the common theory that there is such a thing as “marijuana addiction” or that it matters— what addicts are addicted to is the heavily promoted and glamorized H-ot B-urning O-verdose M-onoxide do$age format– $igarette, Joint or whatever, and some passive mellowed-out feeling caused by the heat shock and mind-numbing monoxide, to self-medicate away what they really fear, namely anxiety.)

    For Indian tribes, this should be the most important opportunity in a century to root out Imperialist Imposition No. 1, alcoholism. Start setting up woodworking shops, some hands are going to get busy making Moderate Use Utensils.

  6. Perhaps, if Peyote is a sacrament?

    Why should Cannabis be any different? maybe perhaps in a different top soil

    Or perhaps nothing at all..

    It could grow freely in any possible microclimate,like a weed starving in its mid-latitude existence? …..Yeah man!

    [Editor’s note: Indeed cannabis has long been used as a religious sacrament. Unfortunately, absent an act of Congress expressly allowing cannabis to be either legalized outright or can be used as a religious sacrament, the US Supreme Court has largely cut off any future legal challenges to a federal ban on cannabis use for religious purposes when, in the 2005 court decision ‘Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal’, the justices ruled that a schedule I drug that is already in mass use (like cannabis) can’t enjoy religious exemption protections.]

  7. Crazy,because i thought that Water was the most sanctifying thing on the Planet…

    Lets think about it,what do you want more? something simple like water,for example…or a carbohydrate, or a Protein?

  8. These Tribes will need help getting started. Some expert help would go a long way. Places like Texas should be targeted. they have 3 major tribes I think. If Texas Republicans see the Indians making a lot of money, they simply could not take it! They would legalize shortly after to try and get the money for themselves! Loving it!

  9. Won’t this weed use by Indians make them want to dance with white women and go on the warpath?

    Grave concerns….very grave concerns.

  10. My hope for the Native People is that they can benefit from this amazing plant. I don’t want to sound overly optimistic, but I think it has great potential to bring about healing. I think this can give alcohol a run for its money, give people an alternative that won’t bleed the life out of you. There is evidence that shows alcohol use decreases when people have access to good cannabis. Provide people with a whole new industry that will just branch out as far as the imagination can take it. Tourism will be up, there are medicines that can be made with this, people will be needed to grow harvest and cure the product, countless textile products can be developed, and with minimal environmental impact, and most of the jobs created will not require higher education. With cannabis acting as an anti-inflammatory agent, it can help with everything from arthritis to diabetes and probably more. Imagine what could happen if alcoholism were wiped out on the reservation and everybody who wanted a way to earn money could have one.

  11. Now let’s ask a Native American group to buy a casino in Atlantic City and bring Governor Christie and the rest of the citizens on NY, NJ, and PA the peace pipe ! There’s a new meaning to “getting comped” at Mohegan Sun.

  12. Now let’s ask a Native American group to buy a casino in Atlantic City and bring Governor Christie and the rest of the citizens of NY, NJ, and PA the peace pipe ! There’s a new meaning to “getting comped” at Mohegan Sun.

  13. Was doing some research this morning on legalization and stumbled across this, which has sent me into a fit of rage, http://m.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/marijuanainfo/ someone should create a petition on whitehouse.gov to remove all of these lies and false information with no proof or bearing for any of it. Just take a look at the FAQ and the public health consequences links

  14. Reply to LI: They are not treating Natives differently based on race. This ONLY allows Tribes in Colorado et al, to grow. It is needed in states where pot is legal because the feds have legal jurisdiction on the rez, not states.

  15. Reply to roger. Im not sure if its or isnt based on race. But this allows tribes in all states not just col, wash. So to me it seems biased.

  16. AWESOME!

    This calls for a little song by Wailin Jennings;

    Some have said
    Down through history
    If you last
    Its a mystery
    But I guess they don’t know
    What they’re talking about

    From the mountains
    Down into the sea
    You’ve become
    Such a habit with me
    America, Ameheaherica

    Well I come from
    Down in Tennessee
    But the people
    From California
    Are nice to me

    It don’t matter
    Where I may roam
    Tell you people
    Its home sweet home

    And my brothers!
    Are all black and white
    Yellow too
    And the red man is right

    To expect a little from yooooou…
    Promise… And then follow throoooough…

    All the men
    Who found the plains
    And who lived
    Through hardship and pain
    America, Ameheaherica

    And the men
    Who could not fight
    In a war
    That didn’t seem right
    You let’m come home…

    And my brothers
    Are all black and white
    Yellow too
    And the red man is right
    To expect a little from yooou…
    Promise… And then follow throoooough..

    Well I come from
    Down round Tennessee
    But the people
    From California
    Are nice to me

  17. I tried to find some information on how individual tribes are considering this option. What I’ve seen is scant, vague and runs the continuum from banishing individuals from reservations to totally legalizing and commercializing marijuana.

    Any Natives out there that care to throw out

  18. Like the above poster, I anxiously await any info on which tribes will be taking advantage of this situation. I am a resident of a state (NC) that will probably be one of the last to legalize, but does have a Cherokee Reservation. A road trip to the western part of my own state would be a heck of a lot easier that one to Colorado.

  19. im native and live in wisconsin. im getting ready to put up greenhouses. have to be ready for when the state legalizes it.

  20. With the way that the Feds have defined marijuana, the tribes could also grow cannabis for hemp. Tribal industries could make newspaper stock, fabrics, lotions, fuels, etc. from cannabis, and have time for a victory dance. What a way to ring in the New Year!

  21. Nothin but us half-breed Cherokees on this blog, fireweed. (You know, everybody’s great grandma was Cherokee). All kidding aside, Of all the stupid reasons to send an Indian to Federal Prison, possession of marijuana has to be one of the worst. The U.S. has a long history of removing cannabis forcefully from everywhere from Piney Ridge, South Dakota to four corners in the Navajo Nation. Thank fully, with representation from fine American Indian Federal Judges, like Dianne Humetewa of Arizona, there has begun a fair manner of representation for Indians who are federally recognized members of an Indian nation who are forced to see a Federal Judge due to their federal relationship with the United States Government.
    Also, Fireweed, there are a lot of good reasons why Indian Nations need to be careful and private with what they are investing in until marijuana has been officially descheduled. All that depends on who we vote for in 2016.

    These guidelines from the DOJ may not be full legal regulation of marijuana, but as we witnessed in Colorado and Washington, they are a real door opener for investment and opportunity; And yes, God willing, perhaps we’ll see more vaporizers and head shops than bottles and liquor stores on reservations one day.
    I have to say NORML, I’m a little upset; Where’s your coverage of the defunding of medicinal marijuana in the spending bill??!! You had us all cryin about D.C., which although a shame as it was to add that to the bill, it’s not cool to report on D.C. without mentioning that CONGRESS CUT FUNDING TO ENFORCE THE PROHIBITION OF MEDICINAL MARIJUANA! PLEASE tell me you have a well-informed article and response coming up soon!

    Oh, and while I’m on a rant, can you please update your legalization map on your “state info” page? Perhaps you could use a different shade of green to HIGHlight Indian Country so we can see it’s just a Federal guideline from the DOJ.

  22. I’m sure policy will depend on the individual Nation. Remember, cannabis is an Old World plant imported into the New World, so they won’t have 500-year-old traditions regarding it.

  23. reply to freethegreen,

    while on a personal level, I love the idea of legal weed being anywhere near driving distance for me, but that’s not why I want to hear Native’s opinion on this. It’s more about questioning how does this affect their culture and their ways. I appreciate that their spirituality has been trampled on again and again by white culture, and I would never want my passion for this wonderful plant to be a tool for further dismanteling their culture.

  24. To my dismay, the feds are attempting to block legalization in DC, and deBlasio is flaming useless on legalizing in NYC, a case of the new boss being the same as the old boss, you know, The Who style.

    I had hoped that the Seneca Nation in New York would be one of the Nations that would legalize.

    Because this Harris asshole there is still no legal weed on the East Coast.

  25. What is this dumb shit? Now Obama is going to put legalization onto American Indians?

    Just De-schedule marijuana already!

    This is completely irresponsible! With how dickish the police have become, I see a fair amount of dead indians in the near future.

    You’re okay on the reservation, but drive down the wrong road and “suddenly” you’ve become a felon.

    I get that Obama wants to force white people to legalize marijuana. He does not want to do it himself. But he plan is still shitty when he has the will of the people behind him, but not the police. His plan is basically bring the level of disorder as high as it already is in black communities to white communities so white people will reject the policy en masse.

    What the fuck??? Does he think he is fighting a 100 year war? Stop telling America we need to keep taking this shit policy from idiots that cannot achieve any good. Be a leader so I can thank-you at some point.

  26. Way to go Obama. Hope it does not change the natives. I don’t call their race native American because they were here before the Euro trash discovered an inhabited country. LOVE MJ, should be now and should have always been legal.

  27. Oneida Nation, now is your time to change laws that disagree with Native views on plants. I am excited to think that in the poorest reservations the people may finally prosper, raising revenue and creating a better standard of living for some of society’s most vulnerable and disenfranchised citizens.

  28. “Race” is an ignorant myth…employed by our OveRRuling Ultra-Rich Class Masters to manipulate ignorant humans.

    Earthlings are one species.

    Human DNA is Human DNA.

  29. The Shoshone-Bannock tribes are located on the Fort Hall Reservation in Southeastern Idaho between the cities of Pocatello, American Falls, and Blackfoot. There are 5681 enrolled tribal members, most of them living on the Fort Hall Reservation. The tribal business offices are located 8 miles north of Pocatello in Fort Hall. I’m sure if the tribal leaders decide to try their hand at growing marijuana I will hear about it on the local news.

  30. While were all hopeful at the prospects of buying weed from Indians, Let’s not overlook what potential this executive action has for Indian communities when combined with funding cuts to hemp or medicinal raids. Let Indian nations prosper with fields of hemp and get kivas in Arizona and sweat lodges in New York working again. I don’t see a thing wrong with purchasing weed from a head shop on a reservation if the local tribal law votes for it, but remember the catch 22 that places them in if and when people get caught at the borders? Selling you what was clearly more than a use-while-visiting amount? These are some nervous guidelines from the DOJ until marijuana is descheduled.
    Perhaps, for the meantime, a more productive alternative to commercial Indian marijuana would be to have a more personal relationship with the nation nearest you and discover the way they have culturally adopted cannabis into their culture.
    Im very exited for what hemp can start doing, especially in reservations in the west that are suffering from drought. What a tremendous opportunity, and a just decision. Obama can confidently place a feather in his war bonnet for this decision.

  31. @ Dave Evans,

    I understand your frustration; however, I work with a couple of Native Americans, who are originally from pueblos here in New Mexico. I haven’t had a chance yet to ask them their opinions on this matter, but given their propensity to smoke the herb, I’m sure it’s a positive one.

    I know that I’m very happy about the prospect of Native Americans being able to legalize MJ on their lands. I’m virtually surrounded by reservations and pueblos where I live in NM.

  32. This is the most dysfunctional governments I have ever seen. They do not know how to make decisions effectively or correctly. We are all citizens of the U.S. and it not right to give liberties and freedoms to one group and not all of us. We are separated and segregated by our own government leaders. It’s ridiculous.

  33. Being Native American I feel as though tribes and reservations should be allowed to grow hemp/marijuana because you can use them in multiple ways. Medical marijuana can be used to treat and cure multiple diseases and illnesses including cancer, glaucoma, pain, muscle spasms, arthritis, and seizures. There is more diseases and illnesses that marijuana can help with that I did not list. Hemp can be turned into oil and fuel and is able to be worked with to make other wonderful creations for everyday life.

  34. I never asked to be born into a corrupt government that tells me I can’t consume a naturally occurring plant. Where are the morals and integrity of every stinking bastard who created or enforces and law restricting the use of cannabis?

  35. I saw an apt comment today from a tribal law expert who said, “This isn’t for marijuana or against marijuana, this is for sovereignty.”

  36. “@ Dave Evans, I understand your frustration; however, I work with a couple of Native Americans, who are originally from pueblos here in New Mexico. I haven’t had a chance yet to ask them their opinions on this matter, but given their propensity to smoke the herb, I’m sure it’s a positive one.”

    I hope so. I really don’t want to see this cause Indians any problems. I mean, I know it shouldn’t, but really the police are out of control and they feel they can now just kill people in the streets, just lie and get away with it. I never thought I’d see this kind of crap going on, with police in leadship positions supporting clearly illegal violence against citizens:

  37. @Dave,
    “violence against citizens” has been going on for American Indians for about 500 years now, so I wouldn’t worry about calling the dogs off at the DOJ causing more violence, but instead reducing it. Check out this link to a new N.I.D.A. study from the Washington Post:


    Everything bad our enemies have ever said would happen if we legalized marijuana, including increased alcohol and drug use among teens, has now been proven to be wrong.

    So Andy Harris and Kevin Sabet can go suck a nut. The sky isn’t falling, and we don’t believe in their lies or their poison. It’s time for America to heal, and I can’t think of a more productive plant to do that with than cannabis. The potential here both spiritually and economically among the Nations to meet growing demand in cannabis products is phenomenal, and truly a blessing.

    The Caddo and the Kickapoo here in Texas could benefit substantially by growing hemp now to restore soil depletion, sell their seed and feed to local markets before the next drought, and begin providing an ethanol supplement to the refineries in Galveston where corn failed to do so in the last drought of 2011.

  38. A Canandian co called Affinor Growers just recently signed a deal to provide vertical gowing technology/cunsulting, for food and cannabis production on tribal lands.

  39. Doesn’t the tribal land belong to the feds….how is obama saying its ok ? Please help me understand. ..im all for legalization…..even the 1acre we live on is not really ours on the navajo nation…

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