Feds to Allow Marijuana Sales on Native American Lands | Marijuana

Feds to Allow Marijuana Sales on Native American Lands


The Department of Justice released a memo Thursday directing U.S. attorneys not to prosecute Native American tribes for growing and selling marijuana on their sovereign lands.

The guidance, authored by Monty Wilkinson, the executive director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, extends even to reservations in states where marijuana has not yet been legalized.

The new policy, which is dated October 28 but was released publicly only today, is very similar to a 2013 memo the Justice Department issued outlining eight guidelines that states with legal marijuana would have to follow to avoid federal interference, such as not allowing sales to minors and preventing diversion of the drug to jurisdictions where it is prohibited.

“The eight priorities in the [earlier federal memo] will guide United States Attorneys’ marijuana enforcement efforts in Indian Country, including in the event that sovereign Indian Nations seek to legalize the cultivation or use of marijuana in Indian Country,” the new guidance says.

“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 in an email. “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.”

The new memo says that U.S. attorneys will still get involved in marijuana prosecutions when requested by tribal leaders, and it remains to be seen how many and which Indian tribes will be interested in taking advantage of the new clearance to grow and selling marijuana without federal interference.

Altieri predicted that some tribes would do so. “Like most others in this country, many in these regions see the failures of our current prohibitionist policies and will likely take this opportunity to pursue a new approach,” he said.

Such a move could have big financial benefits for tribes, many of which operate casinos and sell untaxed tobacco products on their sovereign lands, which attracts interest and revenue from non-Indians.

Kevin Sabet, of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, told U.S. News & World Report that the new memo means, “A situation is quickly forming where people living in states who do not want legalization will in fact be living 10 minutes away from a marijuana store.”

Mike Liszewski of Americans for Safe Access welcomed the new guidance but said, “as sovereign nations, these lands should already have this ability as a right.”

Liszewski also focused on the potential medical benefits of unimpeded cannabis cultivation and sales. “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,” he said in an email to Marijuana.com.

About Author

Tom Angell covers policy and politics for Marijuana.com. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit organization Marijuana Majority, which works to ensure that elected officials and the media treat legalization as a serious, mainstream issue. Marijuana Majority led the effort to get the U.S. Conference of Mayors to pass a resolution telling the federal government to respect state marijuana laws, and orchestrated the first-ever endorsement for marijuana legalization by a U.S. Supreme Court justice (John Paul Stevens). Previously, Tom worked for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (All organizations are listed for identification purposes only.)


  1. I live in Oklahoma and hoping that the state legalizes recreational marijuana because of the big boast to the local economies. And while this is good news for the Tribes and eventual access to that marijuana by the public, I would rather see it become legal for everyone and be taxed accordingly! Local communities need the jobs and the industry that goes along with it.

  2. “A situation is quickly forming where people living in states who do not want legalization will in fact be living 10 minutes away from a marijuana store.”

    Kevin Sabet says that like it is a bad thing.

  3. Rod,,do you think the legislators in OKC will allow only the tribes to make money from marijuana>>
    Not in this life,,The DOJ just lit a legalization fire in every state with Indian reservations in them.

    Apparently we aren’t reforming fast enough.

    • NeoIlluminatus on

      This can actually be done, using the alloidal land rights. Google Dr. Aidun, he is a great assistance for land rights.

  4. Lawrence Goodwin on

    Years ago, in the Mohawk Valley of upstate New York, I had the great honor of meeting a Haudenosaunee chief. In the early 1990s, he had packed up his family and moved to the valley, once the capital of the original five-nation Haudenosanuee confederacy, from a reservation on the Canadian border. This very witty and wise chief started building a community for the preservation of indigenous culture and language, and word spread far and wide. The community is located on a beautiful patch of land on the banks of the Mohawk River, complete with its lush and fertile land for growing crops. I can guarantee that, if this chief happens to sow cannabis seeds next spring, the police helicopters will spot them by summer and conduct a massive raid, sending local TV stations and newspapers into a frenzy of their normal yellow journalism. That’s the New York I see, in which indigenous autonomy would be stolen as quickly as the liberties of non-indigenous growers. The anti-cannabis tyranny is alive and well here, despite this announcement.

    • Lawrence Goodwin on

      p.s. The more common name for these good people are ‘Iroquois,’ which was basically a stupid French slang word that translates to ‘meat eaters.’ Haudenosaunee–sometimes also spelled Hotenonsho:ni–means ‘People of the Longhouse,’ and more accuately describes who they were. The longhouses served as the Haudenosaunee halls of government, in which a woman-dominated, matriarchal system determined the selection of ALL the chiefs. Many early records indicate that founders of the United States of America were sincerely impressed by the Haudenosaunee political system, devising our constitutional republic in part from observing it–excepting, obviously, our nation’s utter lack of respect for the superiority of the ladies. A constitutional amendment had to be passed in 1920 just to let women vote. Patriarchy, condescending paternalism, patronizing 20 million citizens strong–these are the traits that, today, define most of New York’s male political leaders. Somebody, please, show me the green light that will guide my state out of the Dark Ages.

      • Lawrence Goodwin on

        Sorry: the original Haudenosaunee confederacy nations are the Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, and Seneca. Later, after reportedly facing too many problems with colonists far to the south, the Tuscarora nation relocated and was welcomed to join the confederacy. It’s a fascinating story, and I’d predict a renaissance for Haudenosaunee communities if they could again plant cannabis hemp. For so many years, reservation casinos have been the main strategy for economic development. Legal cannabis would empower the Haudensaunee far more and benefit entire regions of New York.

  5. Sensible advocate on

    Hopefully all reservations become centers of smart cannabis medicine and culture and that each bit of medicine grown there is a source of pride to the members of the tribe.

    This has the potential to provide a respectable income for respectable work to a lot of very impoverished people in places where there is not much but dirt and sunshine.

    Wide spread adoption and use of cannabis oils and medicines may provide a much needed tool to battle diabetes among the very group most affected by it. It is an effective and healthy substitute to alcohol for people who are reducing their drinking. Cannabis has also been shown to heal and build tissue in parts of the brain damaged by heavy alcohol use.

  6. I’m glad to see some equality finally coming to North Carolina and all its Injustice and suppression of people. Now we need to spread their sanctioned territories to all regions of North Carolina. They should have Sovereign land in all parts of North Carolina. Being tucked away only in the mountains of NC is suppressing this great society of prosperity! They should have reservations in PRIME locations where there ancestors dwelled from the ocean to the mountains. All Hemp and Cannabis production should be allotted to them as well. Then they could lease allotments to others as they see fit for profit. This would help bring equality and justice to the injustices inflicted to their Great Society in the past. Now that is a positive direction of Justice. Everyone needs to repost this in every article they visit don’t just read it Repost.

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