By MORGAN LEE – Associated Press
SANTA FE, NM (AP) – Two tribal communities have been assured that they can attend the April opening of New Mexico’s marijuana market without risk of federal law enforcement interference on tribal lands, according to agreements with state cannabis regulators on Friday.
The agreements outline plans for cooperative oversight of cannabis production and sales in the Pueblos Picuris and Pojoaque and lay the foundation for opening up the industry in Indian Country in a state with 23 recognized Native American tribes. It’s not clear how many other tribes might chime in amid mixed feelings about legalization.
After enforcement actions against reservations, there was uncertainty about US drug control priorities. Officials raided a household marijuana yard in Picuris Pueblo in northern New Mexico in September 2021, months after legalization went into effect.
Across the US, tribal companies have taken a variety of approaches to gain a foothold in the cannabis industry as they straddle state and federal laws and jurisdictional issues.
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In Washington, the Suquamish tribe pioneered a 2015 deal with the state to open a marijuana retail store across from Seattle’s Puget Sound on the Port Madison Reservation. It sells cannabis from dozens of independent producers.
Several Nevada tribes operate their own enforcement departments to ensure compliance with state and tribe-approved marijuana programs, including a home-grown medical marijuana registry. Taxes collected at tribal pharmacies there stay with the tribes and go toward community betterment programs.
In New Mexico, widespread sales of recreational marijuana are scheduled to begin April 1 to adults ages 21 and older, under legislation signed into law by Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham a year ago. The legislature hopes to boost new jobs and reverse harms that past drug-related criminalization has disproportionately inflicted on racial and ethnic minorities.
In a statement, Picuris Gov. Craig Cuanchello described Friday’s agreement with the state as a “joint effort to maintain a robust regulatory environment for cannabis” and also described “an exciting new opportunity to diversify our economic development.”
“Proceeds from a Pueblo cannabis company will support tribal government and surrounding community programs,” he said in the statement.
Rules for excise taxes on cannabis sales on tribal lands have been unclear and could be addressed in separate agreements. New Mexico plans to impose an initial 12% tax on sales of recreational cannabis in addition to standard sales taxes.
The new pact recognizes that the U.S. Controlled Substances Act continues to criminalize marijuana, while outlining a commitment to a local regulatory system that may limit young people’s access to marijuana, disruptive driving, financial support for criminal networks, impaired health, or the interstate cannabis trade prevented.
Tribes will maintain their own cannabis regulations in close consultation with the state – although state regulations on cannabis testing, packaging and labeling will apply.
In 2018, federal law enforcement uprooted about 35 cannabis plants grown by the Picuris Pueblo in a push into medical marijuana cultivation. New Mexico approved the sale of medical marijuana beginning in 2007.
Tribal businesses in Picuris Pueblo, a remote community of fewer than 300 people, include a newly opened gas station and convenience store. Pojoque Pueblo, by comparison, has solid business assets, including a golf course and a large hotel and convention center that served as Indian Country’s pandemic isolation unit during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Last year’s Bureau of Indian Affairs marijuana raid seized nine cannabis plants from a home garden in Picuris Pueblo tended by Charles Farden, who has lived there since childhood and is not an Indian.
The 54-year-old is enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program to relieve post-traumatic stress and anxiety, and New Mexico allows up to a dozen home-grown marijuana plants per household for personal use.
Contacted Friday, Farden said the raid is still making his anxiety and depression worse, and also making it harder to afford medical cannabis.
“I haven’t even slept a whole night since it happened,” he said.
Officials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and its parent agency, the Home Office, have repeatedly declined to comment on the raid and its aftermath.
In late 2020, a combination of state, federal and tribal law enforcement agencies, with the approval of the President of the Navajo Nation, cooperated in a raid on sprawling marijuana farms with makeshift greenhouses in northwestern New Mexico. Authorities confiscated more than 200,000 plants.
At the time, New Mexico limited marijuana cultivation to 1,750 plants per licensed medical cannabis producer. The limit is now 25,000 plants.
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