Native American tribes are fighting to get into California’s cannabis market


Thor Benson / Cannabis News Box Contributor

One group was left out when California drafted Prop. 64, which legalized cannabis in the state: Native Americans. Until emergency regulations were drafter in November, there was essentially no effort to include them in the legal cannabis market, and what found its way into the emergency regulations did not please the tribes.

“There was a small paragraph in the emergency regulations that came out in November that said tribes can get into the California market if we wave our sovereign immunity and give up our civil jurisdiction and choose to be treated like individual businesses and not tribal governments,” Tina Braithwaite, Utu Utu Gwaitu Paiute chairwoman, told Cannabis News Box. “We’re pretty offended by that, because we are tribal nations. We do support our tribal government and our people.”

Tribes, overall, don’t want to go this route, so they’re considering just skirting California regulations and selling cannabis from their reservations anyway.

“It’s federally illegal everywhere—on reservations and off reservations,” Braithwaite said. “If it’s legal in the state of California, then it should be legal for the tribes.”

Braithwaite’s tribe has been growing cannabis for a few years and does sell to visitors at its small dispensary. She said they used to send their products out for testing, but they had to stop when the emergency regulations were enacted.

“Up until January 1st, we were sending our product out to get tested for pesticides and fungicides and mold,” she said. “When the emergency regulations came out, we were no longer able to send our product out to be tested. That is troubling to me.”

Braithwaite has seen positive outcomes since her tribe legalized cannabis.

“Since legalizing cannabis on my reservation, I’ve decreased the alcohol abuse, methamphetamines, the opioids and the crime rate has dropped substantially,” she said.

Tribes are currently banding together to push for legislation that would amend cannabis regulations so tribes can be included in the legal market. Brathwaite says federal funding has been decreasing for tribes for years, and they just want a way to be self-sufficient. Mark Levitan, a lawyer for the tribes, told Cannabis News Box that tribes aim to meet or exceed California’s health and safety standards for cannabis.

“The tribes have formed CNACA, the California Native American Cannabis Association, and we are working with Assemblyman Bonta on revisions to [the law] to give tribes legal access to the California commercial cannabis market in a manner that respects tribal sovereignty,” Levitan said.