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Is Marijuana Legal on Indian Reservations?

Back in December 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice said that it would refrain from enforcing federal marijuana prohibitions on reservations. Then, earlier this month, officers from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Indian Affairs, state, and local law enforcement raided two large-scale marijuana growing facilities on a northern California reservation.

While the U.S. Attorney's Office has yet to file charges in the case, it has left many wondering about the legal status of marijuana on Native American reservations.

Tribal Pot Laws

The direction from the Justice Department last year seemed to fall on the side of supporting the local tribes: federal prosecutors wouldn't enforce pot laws on reservations, even if the state where the reservation is located bans the drug; and the feds would support tribal bans on marijuana, even if the state had legalized it.

So the federal government would let tribal governments decide whether to legalize it themselves, so long as they comply with the same guidelines as states that legalized marijuana. The feds have even been known to cooperate with tribes seeking to kick illicit grow operations off reservations.

Marijuana (Mis)Direction?

So what happened in California? The Huffington Post reported extensively on the raid, which seized 12,000 marijuana plants from the Pit River Tribe's XL Ranch and the Alturas Indian Rancheria. Apparently there remains some dispute as to whether the two growing operations were fully approved by tribal members. There have been concerns about the operation's location (right next to a main highway) and environmental impact. 

Without specific charges, it is also hard to know whether the pot farms were complying with other state and federal ordinances. And with the triple overlap of tribal, state, and federal marijuana jurisdiction (a situation Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom described as "the worst of all worlds") it's even more difficult to determine which ordinances apply.

Given the ever-changing landscape of marijuana laws, if you're thinking about growing or selling weed, or if you've been arrested or charged with a pot crime, you'll want to consult an experienced drug crime attorney near you.

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