Dozens of tribal leaders, attorneys, scholars and other interested parties came together on Friday for the first-ever Tribal Marijuana Conference. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. But a new Department of Justice policy has tribes wondering if they should start cultivating the drug for medical, industrial or even recreational purposes.
“This issue was a historic moment for the United States and what the Justice Department did was to invite Indian country to have a historical moment. No different than any other major decision our ancestors have had to make,” said Robert Odawi Porter, an attorney and former president of the Seneca Nation of New York who helped organize the conference, Indian Country Today reported. “Tribal leaders are now going to have the same opportunity to think through whether legalizing marijuana was a good thing."
At least two participants touted the medical benefits of marijuana. Vice Chairman Les Parks of Tulalip Tribes, whose resort in Washington hosted the conference, said the drug could help tribes become players in the pharmaceutical industry, ICT reported. William Anderson, a former chairman of the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians in Nevada, said the drug has helped him address a serious medical issue, ICT reported. The Indian Health Service was recommending amputation of his foot before he turned to marijuana oil. Marijuana is legal under certain conditions in more than 30 states. The DOJ policy said state laws will play a role in determining how federal law regarding the drug will be enforced in Indian Country.