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Monday, January 30, 2023

Federal cannabis policy creates challenges in the Indian state

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Last year, state policymakers faced the challenge of creating a regulatory and tax system for adult cannabis use after enacting a bipartisan majority voter I-190 in the 2020 election. Although cannabis policy is still in place, we’ve got a lot of stuff going. To ensure that the industry is established responsibly in Montana.

Our nascent cannabis industry comes with a great deal of opportunity for Montaigne. We are already seeing new jobs being created by entrepreneurs setting up their businesses from agriculture to retail to laboratory support services. And this industry as a whole is just getting started – the potential for growth is huge.

During this process, my highest priority was to ensure that the Native Americans of Montana were not neglected of that opportunity. It was not easy due to the unique challenges our tribal peoples face.

When the legislature passed HB 701 last session, our goal was to allocate one automatic license to each of our tribal nations to allow them to grow and sell cannabis. However, the Department of Revenue explained that the provision of HB 701 was much narrower than the legislation intended, inadvertently limiting the tribes’ ability to expand their cannabis operation beyond the smallest allowable size.

This is a problem that I will struggle to fix in the next session, and Temporary Economic Affairs has already proposed a bill to do so. But this licensing dispute exemplifies the challenges that tribes face with cannabis.

This is equally true at the federal level. Montana tribes live in a gray area as sovereign states on federal trust estates. Tribes interact with the federal government more than any county or municipal government, which makes federal ambiguity about cannabis policy all the more difficult for us.

As state after state, now totaling 37, has established a legal market for cannabis, there is a growing need for the federal government to start clarifying its regulations. States, as well as tribal nations, should always have the last word on the legal degree of cannabis in their jurisdictions, but the federal government first needs to remove the cloud of uncertainty that exists with regard to legal cannabis.

The policy makers of the country follow the directions given to them by their citizens. With public sentiment turning to support cannabis legalization, we’re seeing state regulations follow suit. A decade ago, the majority of Americans opposed the legalization of cannabis – today those sentiments have completely changed and nearly 60% of Americans believe that cannabis should be legal for medical and elderly use.

But with legal cannabis spreading from state to state, we need to make sure it’s done responsibly. Nowhere is this more important than in minority communities like our tribal nations. In Montana, I think we’ve done a good initial job of providing additional resources for law enforcement and addiction services, for example. But it is our duty as lawmakers to carefully examine the progress of our cannabis industry in the next session to see where we can do better.

This is what we should expect from our federal policy makers as well, as they consider building on the small steps they have already taken to bring more clarity to a national regulatory framework. But this process needs to be expedited in Washington, D.C. — the longer it continues, the greater the chance that jobs and growth for Montana tribes will be delayed.

Senator Jason Small, R-Busby, represents Senate 21, which includes Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations. He is the vice chair of the Marijuana Law Select Committee.


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