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Native Americans tribes left out of California commercial cannabis laws

Native American tribes would like to see California legislation to allow the cultivation and sale of recreational marijuana on tribal lands.
Native American tribes would like to see California legislation to allow the cultivation and sale of recreational marijuana on tribal lands.
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The legal sale of recreational pot is officially two months old, but there are still a lot of wrinkles that need to be ironed out, such as the regulation of cannabis on Native American land and how cannabis can be produced and sold there. 

Many tribal leaders and their attorneys are pushing for legislation that would outline the rules for Indian reservations. Take Two checks in with Mark Levitan, a tribal attorney, and Tina Braithwaite, chairwoman of the tribal council at Benton Paiute Reservation , about the legal implications going forward. 

Tina Braithwaite

Recreational cannabis on Native American land

We were not included in the legislative language. If tribes want to enter the cannabis market, we have to waive our sovereign immunity and give up civil jurisdiction in order to participate in the California marketplace.

The tribes and California government

I have never had a government-to-government consultation with the California Bureau of Cannabis Control. I have requested numerous times to formally meet with the governor's office, but I was denied because the office said they cannot do anything without legislation. We just want a legal path forward. Now we are being locked out of the California marketplace without explanation. It's disheartening that the state government doesn't see us as governments. They only see us as individual business. 

Mark Levitan

State vs. tribe licensing process 

The state doesn't recognize that tribes are their own jurisdiction. They have the power to regulate on their own reservations. The state regulation as it's framed right now treats Native American business, as well as non-Indian business located on tribal land, as if the tribal government doesn't exist at all. This is unprecedented in California for the state to demand tribes to essentially not be tribes for purposes of certain economic activities.

State's jurisdiction over Indian reservations 

The state has criminal jurisdiction over Native American tribes. The United States Congress gave the state of California criminal jurisdiction in the 1950s, but the state does not have jurisdiction over civil purposes. Now that cannabis is legalized, it has created a civil regulatory area for tribes to operate cannabis businesses independent of state law. 

Interview Highlights have been edited for clarity