Fort Peck Tribes Take Stance Against Medical Cannabis

Last week, the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes held several discussions about the legality of tribal members purchasing medical marijuana on the Fort Peck Reservation. Earlier that same week, the City of Wolf Point finalized their ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries within the city limits.

The question of the legality of tribal members having medical marijuana rose after area law enforcement reached out to Fort Peck Department of Law and Justice Judge Stacie Smith after specific questions were raised to law enforcement by a local dispensary owner.

Smith clarified that enrolled tribal members within the boundaries of the Fort Peck Reservation are subject to the Fort Peck Comprehensive Code Of Justice, which is based on federal law. 

Under the Fort Peck Tribes CCOJ, tribal members are prohibited from possessing marijuana since it is a Schedule 1 drug according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Additionally, the Fort Peck Tribes do not recognize medical marijuana cards issued by the State of Montana.

Any tribal member possessing or using marijuana while on the Fort Peck Reservation is in violation to the tribal and federal laws and could be subject to prosecution, Smith said.
Smith said that, while this may not seem fair, the tribal government is subject to federal law. The Fort Peck Tribes government is a ward of the federal government despite its status as a sovereign entity.

This legal specification raises more legal questions regarding the sale of medical marijuana to enrolled tribal members.

Smith stated that she doesn’t know if a dispensary selling to tribal members on the reservation would be considered a crime. Smith said she simply doesn’t know how federal law might view a person selling medical marijuana to an enrolled tribal member, but that there could possibly be consequences. If prosecuted by the federal government, the consequences could be severe.

In January 2018, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Obama administration’s non-interference policy with marijuana-friendly states.

However, President Donald Trump had broke with Sessions on this issue. Recently, Trump stated that he is likely to back a bill introduced by Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, Republican, that leaves the marijuana decision up to the states.

The medical marijuana debate is still in a legal gray area that involves discussions about state’s rights and medical benefits. 

One question that Smith raised was regarding associate tribal members. Those members receive no voting rights and no per-cap, but fall under the jurisdiction of the tribal court system. How these individuals react to potential prosecution could raise even more issues. They technically receive no representation in the tribal government, but would be subject to losing a right as a citizen of the State of Montana.

The Fort Peck Tribes holds jurisdiction over individuals enrolled in any federally recognized tribe as long as that individual is on the Fort Peck Reservation.

Members of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes do not fall under tribal jurisdiction while off the reservation. Although a tribal member’s Montana state-issued medical marijuana card is not currently recognized on the reservation, tribal members fall under the laws of the state and other local jurisdictions while off the reservation and that state-issued card would be valid.

The Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board held a law and justice meeting Thursday, July 19, to allow local law enforcement and community members to speak in regards to this policy. In attendance were local dispensary owner Casey Brock, Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office deputies and many other individuals and tribal members.

Many spoke in favor of the tribes allowing its members to use medical marijuana.

The main concern of the TEB is the $65 million in federal funding that hangs in the balance with their compliance to federal law.

Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes chairman Floyd Azure said at this meeting that he isn’t against medical marijuana and that he can acknowledge the benefits. Azure made clear that this isn’t really about medical marijuana, it’s about providing services for the thousands of tribal members.

Azure stated that if he could be guaranteed the $65 million that funds the department of law and justice, health services, tribal road department and dozens of other tribal departments, he would allow medical marijuana. However, the catch, of course, is that no individual advocating for medical marijuana can guarantee such funding. Only the federal government can ensure the tribes receive their funding. Azure made clear that he has to look toward the bigger picture for the betterment of the people he governs.

The TEB is divided on the issue of medical marijuana as a whole. At a Wolf Point City Council meeting held in April, TEB member Kaci Wallette said that the tribes took a straw vote that she characterized as “divided” regarding medical marijuana. The vote was 7-5 with the seven in support of medical marijuana. The exacting wording of what the TEB was voting on was unclear.

It should be made clear that marijuana is still prohibited under the tribal CCOJ. Many have asked multiple times about a 2015 proposal for the Fort Peck Tribes to legalize marijuana use and possession on the reservation. Smith stated that the proposal did not succeed and possession was never legalized.

Smith stated that the resolution passed was to have tribal members look into the federal aspects and possibilities of legalizing marijuana on the reservation. What that investigation found killed the idea of legal marijuana on the reservation.

The Secretary of the Interior must sign off on all tribal laws and can not sign off on a marijuana legalization law since the drug is still illegal on the federal level.

Smith stressed that the facts about tribal law in no way represent her personal feelings regarding medical marijuana. She also stated that she doesn’t create the laws, she just enforces them. If you are a tribal member and take issue with the law, contact your tribal representative.

Monday, July 23, the TEB reaffirmed with a motion that passed 9-2 that the use, possession or distribution of marijuana, as a federal Drug Enforcement Agency Schedule 1 drug, remains unlawful on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

Marijuana laws are constantly changing in America. Thirty states have legal medical marijuana and nine have legal recreational marijuana. Marijuana remains the biggest legal gray area in United States law.

Montana voters passed I-182 in November 2016 with 58 percent of voters in favor of the bill. In May 2017, Governor Steve Bullock signed into law SB333 which regulates and legalizes medical marijuana in the state.

The Herald-News reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice for more information regarding their rules and regulations for tribal governments in states with legal medical marijuana. As of press time, we are awaiting a reply.

Since the original publication of this article. The medical marijuana dispensary in Wolf Point has closed its doors.