Marijuana Could Benefit Native Tribes in Nevada




Last week, tribal leaders in Nevada testified in support of a bill that would bring the medical and recreational cannabis industry to tribal lands.

Senate Bill 375, introduced by Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas), would allow the state to work with individual tribes whose tribal councils have approved medical and/or recreational cannabis.

“The tribes would oversee what is happening on their reservation, but when they participate in the system they would have to follow the state rules,” Segerblom said of the bill.

Opening marijuana dispensaries and production facilities could be a big deal for the tribes, bringing revenue and new opportunities to their communities. Most of the tribal leaders at last Thursday’s meeting said that marijuana could help mitigate high unemployment and poverty rates.

Tildon Smart, former chairman of the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone tribe, said that about 98 percent of her community of 1,100 are unemployed.

“We lack a tribal court system, we lack a police department, we lack health services – this may help create those services,” said David Decker, Chairman of the Elko Band Council for the Te-Moak Tribe of the Western Shoshone. “Just to pay for dispatch, this is very expensive. This could help us pay for all those economic securities that we currently can’t provide.”

If the bill passes, Nevada wouldn’t be the first state to reach a compact with tribes. In 2015, the Suquamish and Squaxin Island tribes signed 10-year compacts with the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board.

Unfortunately, Washington seems to be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to cannabis on American Indian reservations. Similar compacts between tribes and states have fallen flat, especially because tribes still have to contend with the federal government–many tribes rely on federal funds to keep their communities afloat.

“They are sticking their necks out on this one, but at some point you have to say, ‘We can’t sit around and twiddle our thumbs,'” Segerblom said. “I think the tribes – because they’re sovereign nations – they will have a better leg to stand on.”