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  • Christopher Smith, Publisher

Indigenous Peoples Left Out of Cannabis

I don’t typically pimp my own work on the American Cannabis Report here, but about a month ago I interviewed Mary Jane Oatman, whom many of you know. You can see it on YouTube if you like.

Mary Jane is a member of the Nez Perce tribe in Idaho, and is a direct descendant of Chief Looking Glass who was killed by the US Cavalry in 1877 while attempting to lead the tribe to safety in Canada alongside Chief Joseph. That makes Mary Jane royalty in my book, and not only do I admire her for her legendary family member, but for her own courageous work on behalf of the tribal cannabis communities. Mary Jane founded the Indigenous Cannabis Coalition and is active nationwide helping tribes achieve their potential with cannabis and hemp.

My interviews are sometimes as short as 30 minutes and my chat with Mary Jane was an hour and 45 minutes. I learned an incredible amount during our conversation, and much of it broke my heart.


So this article, titled “Tribes Left Behind By America's Marijuana Laws” caught my attention, and I appreciate the opportunity to share it. Because I think a full accounting of the damage of the war on drugs must include our indigenous tribes.

Photo from the Politico article: "A Native Nations employee hangs newly harvested cannabis flower up to dry in the cultivation facility behind the dispensary. Native Nations is operated by the Flandreau Santee Sioux."

In our interview, Mary Jane told me about being at her grandparents’ house as a little girl, when they were attacked and arrested by SWAT teams and sent to prison. All for having 6 cannabis plants in their personal garden. Her grandmother was sent out of state and intentionally bunked up with a white supremacist.

That kind of harassment has not stopped. The article tells of the Picuris Pueblo Tribe near Taos, New Mexico. Even though native tribes are sovereign nations, “In November 2017, Bureau of Indian Affairs drug officers entered Picuris land and pulled up the approximately 30 medical marijuana plants the tribe was growing... At present day prices, that marijuana flower would be worth at least $100,000.” Which really hurst a tribe of 300 that are among the poorest people in the state.

Medical cannabis was legalized in 2020 in New Mexico, but “in December 2021, three BIA officers entered Picuris land again — according to a letter from the tribe detailing the raid — pulling up nine medical plants grown at the home of a medical card owner.”

In California, “Tribes cannot sell their products in dispensaries around [the state]. Nor can they sell other California-made products in their [own dispensaries], because the state still has no system for allowing native tribes to participate. In order for that to happen, the state Legislature would need to take action to create a compact system — the Department of Cannabis Control cannot enter into those agreements on its own.”

We’re SIX YEARS since adult-use was legalized in California, and TWENTY SIX since medical, but our indigenous tribes are still left out of the biggest cannabis market in the world.


New Mexico launched its adult-use market on April 1, and Gov. Grisham has worked to find a solution for tribes ... The state of New Mexico signed a 10-year agreement with the Picuris Pueblo that is intended to provide protection from federal intervention.

But U.S. Attorney Fred Federici told the tribe that a state compact would not protect them from federal interference. The Picuris are therefore considering growing cannabis off tribal land — a solution that will offer them more protection from the federal government, but which may mean they cannot use their historic water rights, a hot commodity in New Mexico that is one of the few economic legs up that pueblos have in the state.

From the days of Looking Glass until now, the discrimination against native people hasn't changed. Instead of diseased blankets, now governments withhold medicine, water, personal freedom and the ability to participate in the fastest growing industry in America.

It’s shameful that the horrible pattern of ruination of our native tribes persists.


Image source: "Tribes left behind by America's marijuana laws" the Caption reads: A Native Nations employee hangs newly harvested cannabis flower up to dry in the cultivation facility behind the dispensary. Native Nations is operated by the Flandreau Santee Sioux. | Natalie Fertig/POLITICO"


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