Last week members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs voted to grow, process, and sell recreational marijuana. This decision is the result of a referendum that passed with an 86 percent approval. The referendum drew about 1,400 voters total, many of which were younger tribal members. The Warm Springs Reservation is home to nine federally recognized tribes and is the largest reservation in the state, located on 650,000 acres in north central Oregon.
The approved referendum allows the tribe to grow marijuana on the reservation in a greenhouse that may range from 10,000 to 36,000 square feet. However, the possession of marijuana is prohibited on the reservation and the referendum does nothing to change that. Consequently, the marijuana grown on the reservation will be sold to the public through three tribal-owned stores located off the reservation.
The Tribes’ decision comes as the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) prepares to regulate Oregon’s recreational marijuana market. However, the OLCC will not oversee the Tribes’ market. The Tribes will establish a cannabis commission to oversee the Warm Springs facilities, which is independent from the OLCC.
The Warm Spring’s referendum makes it the latest tribe to enter the marijuana market. In 2014, the Department of Justice issued the Wilkinson Memo, stating that it would no longer prosecute federal laws regulating the growing or processing of marijuana on reservations, but would enforce federal laws if requested by the tribes. This laid the groundwork for tribes to establish their own marijuana markets.
The Department of Justice explained the memo as follows:
… the memo was done in the interest of Native America community’s safety. This policy statement recognizes that Indian country is incredibly diverse, and different tribes will have different perspectives on enforcement priorities that are in the best interest of their community’s public safety … Some tribes are very concerned with public safety implications, such as the impact on youth, and the use of tribal lands for the cultivation or transport of marijuana, while others have explored decriminalization and other approaches.
Despite the Wilkinson Memo, some tribes have encountered difficulty participating in the marijuana market. The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe in South Dakota planned to create the country’s first marijuana resort, but burned its initial marijuana crop in fear of a potential federal raid. The Tribe is located in a state where medical and recreational marijuana is prohibited. Allegedly, the tribe intends to move forward with its operation in the future.
As we have previously written about here, the Menominee Nation, located in Wisconsin, was subject to a federal raid in October. The tribe and the federal government disputed about whether the plants destroyed were intended for hemp research or were grown for consumption. The Menominee nation has since sued the federal agents who orchestrated the raid.
Tribes in Washington have had more success with marijuana. The State adopted a compacting system where tribes can contract with the state regarding regulation of marijuana businesses, law enforcement, taxation, dispute resolution, and other related issues. The Suquamish Tribe entered into a marijuana compact with the state of Washington earlier this year. The Suquamish Compact was the first such agreement in the nation.
The Warm Spring’s proposal is the first of its kind in Oregon, but it has not yet been finalized, as Governor Kate Brown must approve the proposal before it goes into effect. The Tribes and Governor Brown’s office are scheduled to meet this week to review the proposal.