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Feds change marijuana enforcement on Indian land

Posted at 7:07 PM, Dec 15, 2014
and last updated 2015-12-10 18:42:54-05

The U.S. Department of Justice plans to stop prosecution of recreational marijuana cases on Indian territories. The new policy is causing concern and confusion.

In a memorandum sent to all United States Attorneys, the U.S. Department of Justice says it will no longer use its resources to routinely prosecute recreational growing and use of marijuana in Indian country.

The department cites as justification, the growing number of states that are enacting laws making recreational, medical, and agricultural use of marijuana legal.

The recreational use and growing of marijuana is still illegal in New York State, but many wonder if the new federal policy opens the door for Native Americans in WNY to grow marijuana for medical purposes?

"Everything is so much up in the air right now. This just struck us just like everyone else," said Martin Seneca, General Counsel for the Seneca Nation of Indians.

"What we are trying to do right now is just evaluate it and see if there are responsible opportunities that are available to us," added Martin Seneca.

One area that is concerned about the new federal policy is Cattaraugus County, which has three Indian reservations: Oil Spring, Allegany, and Cattaraugus.

Making marijuana enforcement even more complicated under the new federal guidelines: the City of Salamanca is located on the Allegany Reservation.

"You are talking about something that has historically involved crime, has involved money, and has involved power.  So, as Sheriff of Cattaraugus County, yes, I am concerned," said Timothy Whitcomb, from the Cattaraugus County Sheriff's Office.

Concerns about the new policy range from a possible increase in drug addiction by Native Americans, to the fear that Indian reservations will become magnets for crime.

The Department of Justice says it will still prosecute marijuana cases on Indian lands under eight federal enforcement priorities:

  • distribution to minors
  • revenue going to criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels
  • preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal to other states
  • preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for trafficking of other illegal drugs or illegal activity
  • the use of firearms in the distribution and cultivation of marijuana
  • preventing drugged driving
  • preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands
  • preventing marijuana possession and use on federal property