Last Thursday, the Department of Justice released a three-page memo announcing that the federal government will not prosecute Native Americans growing and selling marijuana on tribal lands, even in states where the drug is illegal. So will dispensaries become the new casinos?

Probably not. Many tribal leaders, including Executive Director of the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission Ron Andrade, found the announcement surprising and suspicious.


Andrade has nothing against cannabis, and expressed interest in the business opportunity. “I’d rather see the guys on the reservation hooked on marijuana that hooked on alcohol,” he says.

But he’s concerned that the vagueness of the language will open the door to unnecessary prosecution — especially since in one part of the memo, the DOJ mentions that the state attorneys general will still have the authority to stop criminal activity on tribal land.

“It’s like the medical marijuana clinics here in California,” Andrade says. “Yeah, you can have one, but we’ll still arrest you.”

He expects any sovereign lands that begin growing or selling weed will soon be beset by undercover agents and police activity.

Andrade was also annoyed that President Obama hadn’t mentioned the policy change when he met with tribal leaders at the White House in early December, especially since the memo is dated October 28.

“We don’t know if this is a scam,” he says. “Obama has been very much a smoke-and-mirrors president,” complimenting the tribes in person and then looking the other way on important issues. For example, he says, the 2015 defense bill that passed last week gave 2,400 acres of sacred land from a tribe in Arizona an international mining company.

“Talk is cheap. And we should be used to that after 300 years, but some tribal leaders still think they’re going to hear truth,” he says. “Well, they’re not.”

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