Tribes, feds meet on Measure 91

 Oregon tribal leaders met recently at Kah-Nee-Ta for discussion of the impact on Indian Country of Oregon Measure 91, legalizing recreational marijuana in the state.

On hand were the Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon, and a special agent with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. Major crimes on the reservation, such as drug crimes, are prosecuted federally.

Stan Speaks, BIA regional director, and Dean Seyler, Portland Area IHS director, were among the speakers at the conference. Tribal Government Affairs Director Louie Pitt was the moderator.

Discussion focused on law enforcement questions raised by Measure 91, as well as health and welfare, and youth issues. “Marijuana is still a controlled substance,” said Cam Strahm, Drug Enforcement officer.

It is still illegal under federal and tribal law, he said, but recent developments at the state level are taken into consideration.

The 2013 Cole Memorandum provides a federal policy as to prosecution priorities in states where marijuana is legal. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Simmons summarized the main points of the memorandum.

The Colo memo lists eight priorities for law enforcement to keep in mind when determining how to handle a marijuana case. The priorities include:

Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors; preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs or cartels.

Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal to other states; preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana; among other priorities.

There remain some open questions, such as whether the tribes could operate a marijuana cultivation enterprise. A committee appointed by Tribal Council to look at this issue determined that it could provide a new source of significant revenue.

Tribal Councilman Reuben Henry commented that the situation seems unfair, in that people are being treated differently: Off reservation a person can have marijuana without consequence, while a tribal member on the reservation could go to jail for the same thing.

“I think we should all be treated the same,” he said. Marijuana is used for medicine for some people, Councilman Reuben said.

The DEA and U.S. Attorney’s Office are consulting with the tribes in how to proceed in these cases, Officer Strahm said. “You go back to the Cole memo (for guidance),” he said.

Dean Seyler said the physicians at the clinic cannot prescribe medical marijuana, as there could be serious legal consequences to the physician. If the patient had an adverse reaction to the prescribed marijuana, Seyler said, then the physician would be personally liable for the consequences. “As of today, IHS does not allow it,” he said.