Tribes, Washington State Open Door To Cooperate On Legal Marijuana

May 8, 2015

There's a process in place now for Indian tribes and the state of Washington to jointly regulate marijuana should any tribes choose to legalize and sell it.

Tribes don't need a state's permission to get into the pot business, but in Washington State both sides agreed it's best to coordinate.

State Sen. Ann Rivers says she discovered some tribes are very interested and others not at all in growing or selling marijuana. Rivers stood beside Governor Jay Inslee Friday as he signed a bill allowing his office to enter into agreements with tribes about marijuana.

"Getting that signed today is just another step to making sure that we have a well-integrated, well-regulated and well-taxed system in our state," she said.

Puyallup Tribal Chairman Bill Sterud also attended the signing ceremony, but declined to share any details of his tribe's deliberations regarding marijuana production and sales.

Under the legislation signed by the governor, tribes that choose to participate in Washington's licensing, distribution and oversight system would have to collect tribal taxes equivalent to what is charged off-reservation.

The Warm Springs, Suquamish and Tulalips are among other Northwest tribes who have publicly expressed interest in the marijuana business.

"Legalization and regulation will help eliminate the black market, which continues to threaten public safety and our youth," Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman said in a letter to state legislators supporting an intergovernmental agreement, or compact. "For the Suquamish Tribe, the compacting process enables us to work together to ensure that there are not any inadvertent gaps in the regulation or enforcement of marijuana use, possession and sale."

Then again, other tribes view marijuana as a scourge.

Last year, the Yakama Nation objected to recreational marijuana shops opening in 10 Central Washington counties surrounding its reservation.

The U.S. Justice Department indicated in a policy memo last fall that it will take the same approach to marijuana on tribal lands as toward states that have legalized pot such as Colorado, Washington and Oregon.

The department signaled it will de-emphasize federal marijuana enforcement if a state or tribal government puts in place strong oversight that keeps marijuana out of the hands of minors and freezes out gangs and traffickers.

Several Northern California tribes appear likely to be the first to formally enter the marijuana business.