La Center municipal officials have banned recreational marijuana, but the prohibition won’t apply to their newest neighbor, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe.
The tribe recently secured a reservation near La Center, where it plans to build a casino on 152 acres. It would also have the ability to operate a marijuana business there, should it choose to do so.
In states that have legalized marijuana, tribes have been given implicit authorization from the U.S. Department of Justice to enter the marijuana market, if they follow certain guidelines.
But as Washington struggles to align its medical and recreational marijuana markets, adding a tribal market could further muddle the system.
Some state lawmakers are hoping a measure being considered in Olympia could inspire Washington tribes interested in entering the marijuana market to first work with the state. The measure, House Bill 2000, is scheduled for a hearing today.
“The tribes could go into the marijuana business without any interaction with the state,” said David Postman, the governor’s spokesman. “If this passes, at least they have the option to enter into the compact with the states. … The state has the infrastructure for that marketplace, we have the retail outlets, the inspection process, the labeling. We think that’s one of the things that’s going to draw tribes to the compact.”
The legislative bill doesn’t detail what would be included in the tribal-state compact, but gives the governor the authority to work out those details with tribal partners who agree to participate.
If a tribe wanted to interact with the state’s marijuana system, by either selling or buying marijuana outside of the reservation’s borders, the contract would detail how to proceed.
“It would be better for us all if they entered the compact,” Postman said.
La Center Mayor Jim Irish said he’s spoken to Cowlitz tribal officials about their interest in entering the marijuana market and trusts his good working relationship with tribal officials would be key to solving any issues.
“We would be in good communication with the tribe as far as any of the issues,” Irish said.
Cowlitz Chairman Bill Iyall said the tribe has no plans to enter the marijuana market, but it hasn’t ruled it out either.
Tribal members have seen “destruction of families” due to drug use, but it’s also important to look at “further economic opportunities for future generations,” he said.
“There is still uncertainty in federal regulations, so I think it would behoove everyone to proceed cautiously,” Iyall said.
American Indian tribes often enter into compacts with state governments. A compact between the two governments, for example, regulates tribal gaming industries, often detailing the number of gaming stations allowed and size of facilities that are permissible.
Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, introduced a similar measure in the Senate.
Rivers said in an email that she hopes the compacts would provide clarity that “the state is the authority to which the tribes must work with, and answer to” as they “chart the course they wish to take in regard to marijuana.”
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