Marijuana Tribes: Beware of the DEA's Trojan Horse

In 2013, I published "Federal Task Force: Indian Country's Trojan Horse," explaining:

Beware of the federal task force. . . . [T]he federal task force is a Trojan Horse when it enters Indian country. That is because hiding within the federal task force are state and local cops.

This dynamic is especially prevalent with federal drug task forces.  In fact, the first federal task force comprised in pertinent part by state and local cops, were DEA-led drug task forces.  As the DEA explains

Established in 1973, this anti-drug agency combined the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) and Customs’ drug agents to provide exclusive enforcement of federal drug laws. With the direct cooperation of our state and local partners, the creation of the Task Force Program is one of the most productive ways that DEA enforces these laws.

The Controlled Substances Act, which illegalizes marijuana via its Schedule I, is the primary federal drug law that the Task Force Program seeks to enforce---including in Indian Country.

Indeed, it was a federally led task force, comprised in large part by "state agencies and the Modoc County Sheriff’s Office," which took down a massive marijuana grow operation on the Alturas Indian Rancheria and the Pit River Tribe's XL Ranch in July 2015---with much arrogant federal fanfare.

According to The Guardian:

For Galanda such raids represent one of the very real risks facing tribes that move forward with legalization. “Keep in mind some local law enforcement will not pause to ask whether they have any authority on tribal lands,” he said.

This, he said, could have far-reaching consequences. “That raises significant Indian sovereignty implications, potential civil rights violations for those individuals who will find themselves in the cross-hairs of non-tribal cops, and other profound legal consequences.”

The notion of state and local cops raiding tribal lands is anathema to tribal sovereignty; it violates the essence of tribal self-rule, and it destroys the psyche of a tribal community.

I speak from experience.  Here's a picture of what a local drug task force left behind on a California reservation after eradicating a marijuana garden and violating P.L. 280 and a client-tribe's sovereignty:


As I recently blogged:

Don’t take me wrong. For some tribes, recreational or medicinal marijuana commerce will make economic sense; it can help bring significant new non-Indian dollars to rural or impoverished tribal communities.  For other tribes, such commerce will serve as a worthwhile amenity to other tribal enterprises, like a casino or gas station.

The pivot for all tribes, however, is local government. All politics is local, especially marijuana politics. To make tribal marijuana work on-reservation under informal federal guidance, and practically speaking, tribes will need the support of state and local government—which have historically been tribes’ deadliest enemies. That support can be obtained, but not without sovereignty costs.

See also "Native tribes want pot business, but financial gain may cost their sovereignty."

So if your tribe is considering marijuana commerce, beware---especially if your lawyer isn't explaining the sovereignty costs, including those associated with Indian Country's Trojan Horse.

Gabriel “Gabe” Galanda is the Managing Partner at Galanda Broadman. He belongs to the Round Valley Indian Tribes. Gabe can be reached at 206.300.7801 or