Two February 20, 2011 national news stories further suggest that it is time for Indian Country to begin seriously engaging in the state-federal debate about legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana. From the Oklahoman, "How $31 of pot gave mom a 10-year-prison sentence":
Because of $31 in marijuana sales, Patricia Marilyn Spottedcrow is now serving 10 years in prison, has been taken away from her four young children and husband, and has ended her work in nursing homes.
Tragically, Patricia Marilyn Spottedcrow is not the only poor Native American who has had to resort to selling illegal contraband to support her family, and whose family was shattered by the failed effects of the war on drugs. Accordingly, some tribal governments have already taken the matter of marijuana legalization and regulation into their own hands. Other tribes have considered doing so but decided marijuana was and is not part of tribal ways.
From the notoriously conservative Seattle Times editorial board, "The Washington Legislature should legalize marijuana":
MARIJUANA should be legalized, regulated and taxed. The push to repeal federal prohibition should come from the states, and it should begin with the state of Washington. . . .
[I]n America, prohibition is the pursuit of the impossible. It does impose huge costs. There has been:
• A cost to the people arrested and stigmatized as criminals, particularly to students who lose university scholarships because of a single conviction;
• A cost in wasted police time, wasted court time and wasted public resources in the building of jails and prisons;
• A cost in disrespect for the law and, in some U.S. cities, the corruption of police departments;
• A cost in lost civil liberties and lost privacy by such measures as the tapping of private telephones and invasion of private homes;
• A cost in the encouragement of criminal lifestyle among youth, and the consequent rise in theft, assault, intimidation, injury and murder, including multinational criminal gangs; and
• A cost in tax revenues lost by federal, state and local governments — revenues that for this state might be on the order of $300 million a year.
Some drugs have such horrible effects on the human body that the costs of prohibition may be worth it. Not marijuana. This state's experience with medical marijuana and Seattle's tolerance policy suggest that with cannabis, legalization will work — and surprisingly well.
Not only will it work, but it is coming. You can feel it.
To the extent consistent with tribal ways, tribal governments should draft behind the states in the push to repeal federal prohibition, and stand ready to legalize, regulate and tax (or tax exempt) marijuana under tribal law when that day comes.
Gabriel "Gabe" Galanda is a partner at Galanda Broadman PLLC, of Seattle, an American Indian majority-owned law firm. He is an enrolled member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes of Covelo, California. He can be reached at 206.691.3631 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or via galandabroadman.com. This information is not intended to create an attorney/client relationship and shall not be construed as legal advice.