Saturday 26 November 2022
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Seneca Nation May Follow South Dakota Tribe in Legalizing Cannabis

Cannabis plant at early flowering stageThe President of the Seneca Nation said last week that his tribe has an interest in the ever-expanding cannabis industry, especially if and when it comes to New York.

For a long time, casinos have brought a good amount of business to the Seneca Nation and other First Nations tribes in the United States. But Maurice John, Sr., the Senecas’ President, said that they’ve cast their eye on other business opportunities.

“I think the tribe now is just monitoring,” John told WGRZ in Buffalo, NY. “We’ve been looking at this issue for quite a while now. We may decide to do something on our own but we haven’t yet.”

Although starting a medical marijuana business or a recreational dispensary isn’t yet legal in New York State, the U.S. Justice Department released the “Cole Memo” last fall. That document outlined just how and when it would be acceptable for Native American tribes to produce and sell marijuana.

Because Native American tribes are sovereign entities in the U.S., they are allowed to legalize marijuana if they want to. Yet because reservations sit on federal lands in most cases, the process to approve marijuana use on them is complex.

There are currently only four states that have completely legalized or decriminalized cannabis: Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. Yet if all 50 states legalized marijuana, the federal government could bring in a collective $3 billion annually in taxes.

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe in South Dakota legalized cannabis this June, becoming the first reservation to legalize cannabis. Yet the pot industry still represents a legal gray area for many tribes.

For instance, in Modoc County, CA, the federal government seized 12,000 marijuana plants grown in facilities owned by the Alturas Indian Rancheria and Pit River tribes. Although the Justice Department had approved of tribes’ ability to produce and sell marijuana, the amount being produced by the two tribes went beyond the provisions laid out in the Cole Memo.

As for John and the Seneca tribe, he explained in his interview that he and other tribe members are patient, which is what breaking into the marijuana business requires. And experts say that the potential revenues, like those made with gambling, are too great to ignore.

“The Seneca Nation has been here an awful long time and we plan seven generations ahead,” John said. “And I think we’ll be here a lot longer. So, we have to think ahead for our people.”