Another step towards tribal sovereignty: DOJ authorizes tribal decision making for marijuana laws

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On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a decision to give full jurisdiction to Native American tribes over their reservations’ marijuana laws. Tribes, considered sovereign nations, can now choose to be exempt from federal intervention in matters of producing and selling marijuana products.

Timothy Purdon, chairman of the Attorney General’s Subcommittee on Native American Issues, says tribes will still operate under federal guidelines, however, “The tribes have the sovereign right to set the code on their reservations.”

Tribes who choose to legalize marijuana must abide by the conditions present in U.S. states that have legalized it for recreational use (Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon). Rules include restricting distribution to minors, preventing the drug’s revenue from reaching criminals, and penalizing driving under the influence.

Many reservations face issues of alcoholism and high drug rates. This federal decision has brought up the question of how tribes will incorporate legalized marijuana into their communities as they try to ward off preexisting substance issues.

According to U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall of Oregon, just three out of 566 federally recognized tribes have shown interest in pursuing the legalization of marijuana thus far. She claims many tribes are concerned about the United States’ willingness to help combat possible drug abuse.

Former Klamath Tribal Chairman Jeff Mitchell insists, “I have confidence in tribal government that they will deal with it appropriately and they’ll take into consideration social and legal aspects, as well as other implications that go along with bringing something like that into a community.” Mitchell expressed concern about how transportation of marijuana over reservation lines into states that have outlawed marijuana will be handled.

This decision comes as yet another small step in the legalization process of marijuana products that has been transpiring in the United States for over a decade.

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