Justice Department Says Tribes Should Follow Federal Marijuana Laws

After reaching out to the United States Department of Justice, The Herald-News received a reply from the department affirming their stance against medical marijuana on an Indian reservation.

The DOJ currently follows a memo about marijuana enforcement released Jan. 4, 2018. This memo rescinded all previous guidance documents including a 2014 document which gave tribes the right to make their own decisions on medical marijuana.

Also rescinded was the Cole Memorandum which provided guidance to federal prosecutors concerning marijuana enforcement in the wake of many states legalizing the substance. A DOJ representative characterized the Cole Memorandum as “unnecessary” given the DOJ’s current stance.

The DOJ representative said, “The Attorney General (Jeff Sessions) is committed to reducing violent crime in Indian Country and to enforcing the laws as enacted by Congress. As was the case prior to the Cole Memo, the United States has the jurisdiction to enforce federal law in Indian County, and we will continue to work with our tribal partners to keep out communities safe.”

The January memo states that “in the Controlled Substance Act, Congress has generally prohibited the cultivation, distribution and possession of marijuana. It has established significant penalties for these crimes. These activities also may serve as the basis for the prosecution of other crimes, such as those prohibited by the money laundering statues, the unlicensed money transmitter statue and the Bank Secrecy Act. These statues reflect Congress’ determination that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that marijuana activity is a serious crime.”
The memo then states that it is important for federal prosecutors to follow all federal guidelines and enforce the priorities set by the attorney general. When prosecuting, federal prosecutors should weigh all relevant considerations.

The memo continues, “Given the department’s well-established general principles, previous nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement is unnecessary and is rescinded, effective immediately.”

This memo is typical of Sessions’ strong stance against marijuana. A stance which has drawn much criticism from everyone including President Donald Trump and Sessions’ fellow Republicans. At a Senate hearing in April of 2016, Sessions infamously said, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

He also infamously receded Obama-era non-interference laws which stated that the federal government wouldn’t pursue states which have legalized medical or recreational marijuana.
Though it may seem that Sessions is one of the last remaining opponents of marijuana as a whole, he holds one of the highest authorities in the country laws governing the substance. 

However, many states and politicians have broke with Sessions and have relaxed their stance on the substance. Over the past 15 years, the public perception of marijuana has changed drastically. Many 2018 polls estimate that over 50 percent of American’s support marijuana legalization.

Presently nine states including the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana consumption. Thirty states have legalized medical marijuana in some form.

Montana’s own medical marijuana law passed in November 2016 with 58 percent of voters in favor of I-182 which legalized the substance for medical use.

The argument about marijuana will undoubtedly persist until the substance is federally decriminalized. However, the argument for medical marijuana on the Fort Peck Reservation seems to have ground to a halt.

Despite the City of Wolf Point putting an ordnance in place to allow but regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes are beholden to federal law. Tribal members are subject to federal prosecution if they possess marijuana while on the reservation, even for medical purposes. Additionally, the tribes do not recognize state-issued medical marijuana cards.

The marijuana debate came to the reservation and the City of Wolf Point in early 2018. Since then, many meetings have been held and many opinions voiced on the legal, ethical and societal concerns of having a marijuana dispensary in the quiet of northeast Montana.