Two Republican lawmakers are encouraging President Biden to ensure that Native Americans are included in his new plan to reform the country's cannabis laws.
Last week, Reps. Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Brian Mast (R-FL) sent a letter to the president asking him to discuss the topic of cannabis reform with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The letter was issued immediately after Biden announced that he was finally making good on his promise to pardon minor cannabis offenders. The president is also directing federal agencies to consider rescheduling cannabis, which could reduce criminal penalties for weed-related crimes - or even full federal decriminalization.
“We request that you use your authority to keep the Bureau of Indian Affairs and related agencies, such as the National Indian Gaming Commission, focused on more pressing public safety and justice needs, including Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and human trafficking, and require such agencies to respect Tribal sovereignty moving forward,” the letter reads, according to Marijuana Moment.
Federally-recognized Native American tribes have the sovereign authority to create their own laws, even if these laws differ from the states that surround their tribal lands. Many Native tribes have used this authority to legalize medical or adult-use pot in states where weed is still prohibited or to get a jumpstart on sales in other adult-use states. But even though the feds have taken a hands-off policy toward states that have legalized weed, they continue to prosecute Native Americans for minor pot crimes.
“Enforcing Federal cannabis laws on Tribal land, especially in cases where the Tribe and the State have legalized cannabis use, is wrong and it needs to stop,” Joyce said in a statement. “Tribes are sovereign nations, and they have just as much of a right to enact and enforce their own laws as States do. I urge the President to take action to prevent the misguided prioritization and unjust enforcement of federal marijuana laws only on reservations.”
Although cannabis remains federally prohibited, Congress has approved an annual budget rider that blocks federal law enforcement from interfering with state-legal medical marijuana laws. This rider only applies to the Department of Justice, though, and not the Department of the Interior, which oversees the BIA. These inconsistent policies allow the BIA to keep arresting Native people for weed on tribal land, but not anywhere else in the US.
The legislators specifically reference a case in which BIA agents destroyed a Native American man's tiny medical marijuana garden last year. Charles Farden, a member of the Picuris Pueblo tribe in New Mexico, was growing 9 medical cannabis plants on federally-recognized tribal land, in full compliance with state and tribal law. Despite this full legal compliance, BIA agents still spent taxpayers’ money to raid the elderly man's house and destroy his medicine.
The feds have also raided and destroyed other tribes' cannabis operations and continue to arrest Native Americans for minor pot crimes. “Legal, thriving cannabis programs are economic engines for Tribes,” Joyce and Mast wrote, according to Marijuana Moment. “Enforcing federal cannabis laws on Tribal land, especially in cases where the Tribe and the State have legalized cannabis use, is wrong and it needs to stop. Not only is it not right, but it is discriminatory.”