Native American nations explore selling marijuana on territories

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A decision last month in Washington could lead to legal marijuana sales on Native Americans reservations here in Western New York.

The U.S. Justice Department announced in December it wouldn't enforce marijuana laws on Indian territories as long as certain rules were followed like keeping the plant away from kids and not selling it to drug cartels.

A national conference scheduled for next month will bring together Native American Nations from across the country and law experts to see how nations could potentially sell marijuana. It's called the Tribal Marijuana Conference, and it's taking place in late February in the state of Washington.

Robert McVay is a Washington state marijuana lawyer who's cosponsoring the conference with former Seneca Nations President Robert Porter.

Porter is currently out of the country, so 2 On Your Side talked to McVay on Thursday.

He says only three tribes are seriously interested now, and they're out west, but that the Seneca Nation is watching. The Buffalo News reported a Seneca Nation spokesperson doesn't see it happening here any time in the near future.

A big issue is that different laws govern different states. Selling pot on Native American territories would be easier where the plant has been legalized for recreational use.

However, in New York, where medical use legislation past but hasn't been implemented, it could be hard to keep track of and police.

Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said it'd present problems.

"We don't have borders. We don't have border guards set up at the city lines or around Seneca territory. So, yes. It would flow in more than it does now," he said.

That means you could, hypothetically, buy it legally on a territory but then be charged for possession in a local town or city.

"I do think it's a concern, something that needs to be addressed," said McVay. "Part of the problem is that all of this is so new, and so many of these issues haven't really been thought through that we're really just trying to get a discussion started, and that's part of the reason that we're having the conference. We want to have people that are on both sides of the issue, pro-business people as well as law enforcement."

What about casinos? They're considered Native American territory but operate inside of state municipal borders.

McVay doesn't think that would fly when negotiating the terms with federal agencies, but regardless, he says this is only in its earliest stages.

Derenda says if and when it happens, Buffalo police will deal with it then.


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