Friday, May 3, 2024

Ho-Chunk Nation decriminalizes cannabis. This is what that does, and doesn't, mean.

From JSOnline:

Frank Vaisvilas
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Kristin White Eagle, who serves as a member of Ho-Chunk Nation Tribal Legislature, says it’s time for Wisconsin to legalize cannabis.

“Across the country, we have seen the benefits of cannabis,” she said in a statement. “It’s time to move toward an end to this prohibition.”

White Eagle and the rest of the Ho-Chunk tribal legislature voted to decriminalize cannabis on tribal lands, according to an announcement April 30.

They reasoned that millions of dollars in potential revenue leaves Wisconsin every year as residents buy cannabis from surrounding states that have legalized it.

“The Ho-Chunk Nation recognizes that marijuana and its derivatives are natural growth plants with medicinal and industrial applications,” the tribe said in a statement. “Indigenous people have used marijuana and hemp for hundreds of years for a variety of purposes and the Ho-Chunk Nation acknowledges its functional purpose.”

Cannabis is illegal in Wisconsin and on the federal level, but the tribe said it anticipates entering the cannabis business once it becomes legal in the state.

But tribal law experts say there's still a legal question about whether tribal nations can allow cannabis sales on federal trust reservation land — land that isn't subject to local jurisdiction or taxes but still must abide by federal law.

Matthew Fletcher, a University of Michigan law professor who specializes in tribal law, doubts tribal nations can have much success in that endeavor without a change in federal law.

"The only way to do that would be on tribal trust land/Indian country land, and since federal law still bans cannabis, no, there’s no way," Fletcher said. "That doesn’t mean tribes won’t do it, but they are at the complete mercy of the whims of the federal government’s decision to prosecute or not. It’s no way to do business. Same is true even if the state makes it legal."

But Wednesday, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration signaled it intends to reclassify cannabis as a less dangerous drug, eight months after the U.S. Department of Health recommended that it do so.

The reclassification of cannabis from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III drug means the federal government would acknowledge the potential medical benefits of the drug and it would be legal for medicinal purposes at the federal level.

But states could still choose to make cannabis illegal, even for medicinal use.

It’s unclear if tribes in Wisconsin would allow sales of cannabis for medicinal use if it becomes legal on the federal level but remained illegal at the state level.

Rob Pero of Canndigenous and the Indigenous Cannabis Industry Association is organizing tribal support for the legalization of cannabis in Wisconsin.

“Tribes are able today to self-determine their interests in cannabis and the complex landscape requires the navigation of local, tribal, state and federal policy,” said Rob Pero, founder of the nonprofit Indigenous Cannabis Industry Association. “We see the reclassification empowering tribes to engage meaningfully throughout the supply chain, from farming to processing to retail and more, as well as to facilitate interstate nation-to-nation commerce.”

The Ho-Chunk Nation is a member of the ICIA, along with three Ojibwe tribes in Wisconsin — Lac du Flambeau, St. Croix and Sokaogon Mole Lake — and is lobbying Madison with its Indigenous partners for legalization of cannabis.

“This is a history day for Ho-Chunk,” Pero said of the tribe’s vote on cannabis. “We commend their commitment to increasing accessibility to plant medicine. … They are building and environment now, before prohibition ends, that will position them to lead the industry, create sustainable economic opportunity and improve the health and wellbeing of our people.”

Tribes in states where cannabis is legal have already entered the industry and are seeing large profits,

Robert Van Zile, chairman of the Mole Lake Ojibwe Tribe in Wisconsin, said the Hannahville Potawatomi Tribe, about 100 miles east of Mole Lake in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, earns about 90% of its $5 million annual cannabis business revenue from Wisconsin residents.

He said Wisconsin is losing tens of millions of dollars to surrounding states where cannabis is legal, including Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota.

Frank Vaisvilas is a former Report for America corps member who covers Native American issues in Wisconsin based at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Contact him at or 815-260-2262. Follow him on Twitter at @vaisvilas_frank.


No comments: