RED LAKE -- The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians Tribal Council unanimously approved Tuesday a study on how medicinal marijuana and industrial hemp could benefit the Red Lake Nation.
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, Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians 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 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, told the Pioneer 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 putting the topic to a vote. Meuers said the general consensus was in 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.
Public meetings in February
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.
Marijuana is not indigenous to Minnesota, but has been present in the states since the 1600s.