TULALIP, Wash. (CBS/AP) — The Justice Department’s December announcement that it would allow the nation’s Indian tribes to legalize and regulate marijuana on their reservations brought notes of caution — if not silence or opposition — from many tribes.

They were reluctant to consider it given the substance abuse problems that already plague many reservations.

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Already a Mendocino County tribe has signed up to be the first tribe in California to launch a large marijuana growing operation. The Pinoleville Pomo Nation plans to build a $10 million dollar facility to grow pot indoors.

Friday’s attendance at a conference on the topic Friday gave an early indication of just how many might be planning similar moves.

Representatives of about 75 tribes from around the country converged on the Tulalip Indian Tribe’s resort and casino for a $605-a-head seminar on the regulatory, legal and social issues related to pot legalization. That’s a small fraction of the nation’s 566 recognized tribes, and many of the attendees were from smaller tribes looking for a potential economic edge.

The Tulalip Indian Tribe's resort and casino where representative from 75 tribes met to discuss legalizing marijuana on their reservations. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Tulalip Indian Tribe’s resort and casino where representative from 75 tribes met to discuss legalizing marijuana on their reservations. (Wikimedia Commons)


“I’m pleasantly surprised — a great deal more are considering this than I thought would be considering it,” said Ken Meshigaud, chairman of the Hannahville Indian Community, a band of the Potawatomi Tribe on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. “From an economic standpoint, it may be a good venture the tribes can get into.”

Tribes have been wrestling with the idea since the U.S. Justice Department announced that it wouldn’t stand in their way if they want to approve pot for medical or recreational use.

The agency said tribes must follow the same law enforcement priorities laid out for states that legalize the drug, including keeping marijuana out of the hands of children and criminal elements.

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“We have to take a look at it,” said Seth Pearman, an attorney for the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. “The economic opportunity is just astronomical — it would be almost negligent to miss out on this.”

He said tribal leaders already are drafting regulations for a marijuana industry, and they toured some dispensaries on their trip to Washington state for the conference.

Representatives of several tribes said they were considering legalizing or regulating cannabis for medical use. They said they were intrigued about the idea that making pot more accessible might help cut down on abuse of methamphetamine or prescription drugs among tribal members.

“We’re looking at what the benefits are, not only with revenue but with the medical relief we can give to our elders,” said Lewis Taylor, chairman of the St. Croix Tribe of Wisconsin.

Photo taken around 1900 of an Arizona Havasupai Indian medicine man, Rock Jones (L) sitting on a blanket with a policeman. (Wikimedia Commons)

Photo taken around 1900 of an Arizona Havasupai Indian medicine man, Rock Jones (L) sitting on a blanket with a policeman. (Wikimedia Commons)


“Historically we’ve always had the medicine man, and they’ve always prescribed herbal medicine,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re in a legal framework to do this.”

Meantime, the Pinoleville Pomo Nation’s grow operation is expected to open this month, north of Ukiah.

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