Native Americans Can Grow and Sell Marijuana Without Government Interference, Justice Department Says (UPDATE)

Update: Reached for comment by New Times, spokesman for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Gary Bitner, said that the growing and selling of marijuana on sovereign tribal land is "not on the Seminole Tribe's radar."

Messages to the Miccosukee Tribe have remained unreturned.

Florida remains one of the last few states where growing and selling marijuana in any capacity is still illegal. But that might change, at least in one aspect, according to a report by the L.A. Times that says the U.S. government will not stop Native American tribes from growing or selling pot on sovereign land.

The report says the Justice Department will not try to enforce federal marijuana laws on Native American reservations, even if it's otherwise illegal in a respective tribe's state. Which essentially means tribes can grow and sell weed on their land without government interference.

Just as casinos have been big moneymakers down here for Native American tribes such as the Miccosukees and Seminoles, so too can selling marijuana, potentially.

According to the report, the Justice Department will announce today to attorneys not to keep tribes from selling marijuana on sovereign land. Even if, like in Florida, the growing, selling, and possessing of marijuana is illegal.

This could have major implications across the state, should any tribe decide to take up the pot-selling business. Just last month, the amendment to have medical marijuana legalized in Florida fell short by razor-thin margins. And over the past couple of years, more and more polls showed that Floridians support the legalization of medicinal marijuana. And while those surveys didn't ultimately reflect in the polls, it did show that a large number of supporters are out there.

The report says that the memorandum will be on a case-by-case basis and that tribes will still be held to certain federal guidelines. But overall, they'll be allowed to grow and sell weed if they choose to do so.

Many tribes across the country oppose the legalization of pot on their lands. So it's hard to say if any tribe in Florida will take up growing and selling weed on their land. Some tribes, which have a history of alcohol abuse in their communities, are opposed to marijuana. Calls and messages to the Miccosukee and Seminole tribes by New Times have yet to be returned.

Still, just as cigarette sales and casinos have been a business boom for tribes, so could marijuana, potentially, if any tribe chooses to go that route.

U.S. attorney for North Dakota and the chairman of the Attorney General's Subcommittee on Native American Issues, Timothy Purdon, told the L.A. Times that the Justice Department will still enforce marijuana laws on tribal land, should tribes request it.

But overall, the Justice Department says it won't enforce marijuana laws on sovereign tribal land, as long as the guidelines are met. Among the guidelines are for weed not to be sold to minors or be delivered outside of the tribe.

"The tribes have the sovereign right to set the code on their reservations," Purdon said via the report.

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Chris Joseph
Contact: Chris Joseph