American Indian Tribes Look Into Multi-Million Dollar Marijuana Production

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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The Department of Justice granted American Indian tribes the autonomy to grow and sell marijuana on their own lands in 2014. Many tribes exhibited caution because of chronic drug and alcohol abuse, but over 100 tribes have now shown interest in pursuing manufacturing operations in order to gain financial independence.

The Pinoleville Pomo Nation in California has already announced plans for a massive $10 million dollar, 2.5-acre facility to produce medical marijuana, which takes up only a small amount of space on the 99-acre tribal lands, Huffington Post reports. FoxBarry Farms is the lead contractor on the project, and CEO Barry Broutman stated that the amount of interest from other tribes has been overwhelming.

“I really underestimated,” Broutman told The Huffington Post. “So many tribes are wanting to do this right now.”

What makes marijuana production particularly lucrative is that tribes might be able to avoid the incredibly high taxes placed on marijuana by states with legal marijuana like Colorado or Washington. As a whole, regulatory status may be fraught with difficulties moving forward for tribes in California considering the cannabis industry, mostly because there is no state-level regulatory framework for marijuana. Instead, municipalities have mostly been left to create policies of their own.

“It’s going to be quite a battle for small farmers to hold onto the market,” Tim Blake, organizer of the cannabis growing competition Emerald Cup, told VICE News. “Look at the rest of agriculture in America, big agriculture is the reason why the small farmers are gone.”

However, dissenting voices from the National Congress of American Indians cited an increase in the potency of marijuana over the last few decades as just one of the reasons why it opposes legalization at all levels of government.

The NCAI is worried that the already high rates of drug abuse among American Indians, compared to other ethnicities, will further skyrocket if tribes begin to produce marijuana, leading to a “reduction in IQ, mental illness, poor learning outcomes, drugged driving, lung damage, addiction and emergency room mentions related to acute panic attacks and psychotic episodes, and treatment entry.”

The federal government’s shift in enforcement priorities came about in early December, after Oregon U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall inquired about marijuana on tribal lands. Although the DOJ’s policy was issued on Oct. 28, it wasn’t publicly released until mid-December, meaning that the status of marijuana on tribal lands is entirely up to tribal councils, so long as they refrain from selling to underage users and abide by other minor regulations. (RELATED: American Indian Reservations Now Free To Legal Marijuana)

Many American Indian tribes maintain that the ability to sell marijuana will help fund infrastructure and a variety of social programs, but the evidence is mixed when it comes to a similar high profit, vice industry: casinos. According to economists, it’s not clear that casinos have contributed strongly to the well-being of American Indians, and as of 2012, 1 in 4 American Indians still lives in poverty.

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