Cannabis on tribal lands has always been a complicated issue. In short, tribes have leeway to legalize cannabis under sovereignty, but sometimes those tribal lands are in states that have not done so. Tribal sovereignty refers to tribes’ right to govern themselves, define their own membership, manage tribal property, and regulate tribal business and domestic relations; it further recognizes the existence of a government-to-government relationship between such tribes and the federal government.
States that have legalized cannabis for adult use that also have tribal lands are: California, Colorado, Maine, Oregon, Nevada, and Washington. States with medical cannabis laws and tribal lands are: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, and Montana. While there was a flurry of excitement around the business opportunities across the country in 2015, most of those plans were too bold. Instead, during 2016, a small number of tribes within states that have existing legal cannabis frameworks have slowly and quietly rolled out their plans.
Those who live on Native American lands, governed by sovereign tribal governments, are subject to rules and regulations different from those who live on non-reservation land. Reservation casinos flourish in states where gambling is prohibited, for example.
In October 2014, the Department of Justice director Monty Wilkinson released a memo in response to questions about the Controlled Substances Act as it relates to Native American lands. The Wilkinson memo pointed to the Cole memo, which outlined eight priorities for how limited justice department resources could be best spent on cannabis-related crimes. ”The eight priorities in the Cole Memorandum will guide United States Attorneys’ marijuana enforcement efforts in Indian Country, including in the event that sovereign Indian Nations seek to legalize the cultivation or use of marijuana in Indian Country,” the Wilkinson memo read.
Considering the Cole