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Red Lake tribe approves study on medical marijuana, hemp

RED LAKE -- The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians Tribal Council unanimously approved this week a study on how medicinal marijuana and industrial hemp could benefit the Red Lake Nation’s economic development.

However, serious doubts were raised about growing or use of recreational marijuana.

Many American Indian tribes began discussing the potential of marijuana and hemp on reservations after the federal Department of Justice released a memo Dec. 11 in response to some tribes requesting guidance on the enforcement of the Controlled Substance Act on tribal lands by the U.S. Attorneys' offices.

"It came seemingly out of nowhere, the federal government says Indians can go ahead and grow marijuana," said Michael Meuers, the  Red Lake Band’s public relations representative. "Most tribes across the country are looking at this."

While the Department of Justice didn't identify the tribes asking for guidance, Ben Petok with the Minnesota U.S. Attorney's Office said no tribes in Minnesota have informed that office of their interest in growing marijuana on tribal lands.

In May, Red Lake Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki Sr., who was chairman-elect at the time, said the two things he had in mind for the future of Red Lake were jobs and economic development. Seki said a feasibility study may be done to determine what types of businesses can succeed in generating revenue on a closed reservation.

Meuers said the council debated for about 40 minutes Tuesday before they offered general support of industrial hemp with some concerns regarding medical marijuana.

"There's nobody advocating recreational use of marijuana," Meuers said. He added law enforcement expressed opposition to recreational marijuana at Tuesday's meeting.

The tribe's economic development and legal departments have been directed to conduct a feasibility study to gather information on medicinal marijuana and industrial hemp. A completion date has not been determined for the study, Meuers said.

Seki has set community meetings in February in Red Lake, Redby, Little Rock and Ponemah to hear what band members think of bringing marijuana onto the reservation and to discuss the potential for job development.

"Whatever happens with it, if it's moving toward industrial hemp, medical marijuana or recreational marijuana," Meuers explained. "It will go to a referendum of the voters. The voters will decide that ultimately."

Red Lake is a dry reservation, where alcohol is prohibited, so recreational use poses a separate concern than medicinal or industrial cultivation. Since Red Lake is a closed reservation, state laws and government do not have jurisdiction. Meuers explained that generally, Indian nations have a sovereignty above that of a state.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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