Cannabis on American Indian reservations

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A Bureau of Indian Affairs map of Indian reservations in the contiguous United States.

Cannabis on American Indian reservations historically largely fell under the same regulations as cannabis nationwide in the United States. However, the August 2013 issuance of the Cole Memorandum opened discussion on tribal sovereignty as pertains to cannabis legalization, which was further explored as the states of Washington and Colorado legalized marijuana. A clarifying memo in December 2014 stated that the federal government's non-interference policies that applied to the 50 states, would also apply to the 326 recognized American Indian reservations.[1][2][3] U.S. Attorney for Oregon, Amanda Marshall, stated that the clarification had been issued in response to legal questions from tribal nations, but that only three unnamed tribes, in California, Washington state, and "the Midwest" had stated explicit interest in legalizing.

Oglala Sioux nation

The Oglala Sioux nation legalized industrial hemp in 1998, and the family of Alex White Plume began to produce the crop from 2000–2002, but federal authorities destroyed his crops and issued him a restraining order forbidding further cultivation.[4][3][5]

In January 2014, the Oglala Sioux tribal council approved a proposal to hold a tribal vote to decide on legalizing marijuana on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota,[6] but the council later rejected the proposal.[7]

Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe

In mid-2015, the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe stated their intent to begin growing cannabis on one authorized site on their reservation, and commence selling the product on 1 January 2016, following a vote of tribal authorities which decided 5–1 to legalize cannabis. Under the regulation, buyers are required to consume the product on tribal property.[8][9]

Menominee Indian Reservation

In August 2015 the Menominee Indian Reservation held a vote on proposed measures to legalize medical and/or recreational cannabis. The Menonimee are uniquely placed in the state, as the only American Indian reservation which falls only under federal law, rather than under Wisconsin Public Law 280 like all other reservations in the state, meaning that the state of Wisconsin cannot prevent legal changes within the sovereign reservation.[10] In an "advisory vote", the tribal membership voted 77% in favor of legalizing medical cannabis, and 58% in favor of legalizing recreational; the tribal Chairman stated that tribal legislators would next decide whether to move forward on the two issues.[11]

Suquamish Tribe

The Suquamish Tribe in Western Washington began selling cannabis at a tribal-controlled store in December, 2015, collecting the same 37% tax as the surrounding state.[12][13]

2015 Modoc County raids

In July 2015, a joint operation by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Indian Affairs shut down grow operations on two reservations in Modoc County in Northern California. Plants and prepared cannabis were seized, but no arrests were made; news reporting indicated that the informant whose complaint sparked the raid was involved in a political power struggle with one of the growers, who is also her brother.[14]

Opposition on tribal lands

The Washington Post in 2014 noted that the Yakama Nation of Washington State, following the state's legalization of cannabis, opposed legalization in ten state counties containing what the tribe considers its traditional lands.[15][16]


  1. "Justice Department memo not likely to change pot laws on tribal land soon, officials say - Tulsa World: Courts". Tulsa World. 2014-12-13. Retrieved 2015-07-12. 
  2. Associated Press. "Indian tribes free to grow pot on their lands – as long as they follow federal laws | US news". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-07-12. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Decriminalizing ‘Peji’ in Indian Country opens options for tribes". Retrieved 2015-07-12. 
  4. Associated, The (2015-05-11). "Pine Ridge farmer Alex White Plume wants to grow hemp again". Retrieved 2015-07-12. 
  5. "Former hemp farmer Alex White Plume to be feted in Colorado". 2014-10-01. Retrieved 2015-07-12. 
  6. "Smoke Signals". Newsweek. 15 May 2014. Retrieved 2015-07-13. 
  7. Associated Press (2014-12-13). "Dakotas tribes react to marijuana decision". Aberdeen News. Retrieved 2015-07-13. 
  8. Garcia, Regina (2015-06-17). "South Dakota Indian tribe plans to sell marijuana by Jan. 1". Retrieved 2015-07-12. 
  9. "Tribe Bets on Legal Pot". US News. 2015-06-16. Retrieved 2015-07-12. 
  10. Spivak, Cary (2015-08-16). "Menominee tribe prepares for vote on legalizing marijuana". Retrieved 2015-08-20. 
  11. Associated Press August 21, 2015 — 2:20pm (2015-08-21). "Menominee tribal members endorse marijuana proposals". Retrieved 2015-08-29. 
  12. Tad Sooter (December 10, 2015), "Suquamish Tribe opens marijuana shop", Kitsap Sun 
  13. Tobias Coughlin-Bogue (December 8, 2015), "Washington State's Second Native American-Owned Pot Shop Is a Big Win for Tribal Sovereignty", The Stranger 
  14. Adams, Mike. "Federal Government Raids Native American Marijuana Operation". High Times. Retrieved 2015-07-12. 
  15. Gregg, Aaron (2014-12-12). "Native American reservations now free to legalize marijuana". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2015-07-12. 
  16. Harris, Amy. "Marijuana growers find cover on tribal lands". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2015-07-12.