The Ho-Chunk Nation continues to research how to move ahead after a membership vote supported the tribe legalizing marijuana.
An opinion from Ho-Chunk Attorney General Amanda WhiteEagle stated the tribe can have a policy to “research all possibilities” regarding the legalization and sale of marijuana on tribal lands. However, the October opinion also cautioned that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
The Nation’s electorate voted in favor of legalizing marijuana on tribal lands by a 2-1 margin at a meeting of the tribe’s general council last September. Votes at the annual meeting of members are not binding, another fact WhiteEagle’s opinion noted.
The vote came after an October 2014 memo released by the U.S. Department of Justice that said federal authorities should look to work with Native American tribes that consider legalizing marijuana. The memo did caution, however, that enforcement would remain a top priority in eight scenarios, including distribution to minors and cases of operating under the influence.
“Even if the state may not prosecute, the federal government may choose to do so if the (memorandum) priorities are threatened,” WhiteEagle’s opinion states. “The Nation’s policy can be to ‘research all possibilities’ regarding the legalization and sale of marijuana on tribal lands. However, the General Council cannot mandate the end result of legalization and sale of marijuana on tribal lands.
“Arguably, if the (Ho-Chunk) Legislature enacted a law, which required the ‘end result’ of legalization and sale of marijuana on tribal lands, it could jeopardize the tribe’s general welfare.”
One Wisconsin tribe already has seen a marijuana operation raided by federal authorities and a second tribe in South Dakota set its marijuana crop ablaze out of fear of a federal crackdown.
Collin Price, the Ho-Chunk Nation’s public relations officer, said the tribe’s research likely will include incidents like the two that came because of federal authority.
“(Legalizing marijuana) was a cool thing to talk about until people tried doing it, and I think now we’re seeing it’s not really that likely,” Price said.
The extent of additional Ho-Chunk Nation research on the topic hasn’t yet been determined, but Price said it could include conferences or reaching out to other tribes for their opinions and experiences.
“I think that’s kind of the best option,” he said.