Native American hold hands with another handThe Suquamish Tribe attempted to break the internet on Friday with the announcement that the Tribe and State of Washington signed the first Marijuana Compact. News about the Squaxin Island-Washington Marijuana Compact followed shortly after. I may be slightly biased, but the tribes in the Northwest continue to demonstrate a willingness to work collaboratively with their respective states while requiring the state governments to acknowledge and respect tribal sovereignty.

After legalization of marijuana in Washington State, the State quickly locked down the fledgling industry by issuing a limited number of licenses and establishing a strict canopy limit. HB 2000 provides a mechanism for tribes to participate in the industry without their non-tribal partners risking their state-issued license by entering into a compact regarding marijuana issues. The Suquamish MJ Compact was the first such compact.

What does a MJ compact mean for the Tribe?

The Compacts do several things – First, the Tribe can open retail stores as well as processing and production centers. Arguably, this was already allowable under the Wilkinson Memo. However, Section V.E specifically allows the Tribe to purchase marijuana products from or sell marijuana products to State Licensees without any potential citation, fine or adverse licensing action against any State License as a result of that transaction.

Second, the State agreed to withhold granting a license to any person or business applying for a license within Suquamish territory without the express written permission of the Tribe.

Third, while the Tribe cannot impose a tax that is less than the current State tax (which might create a business advantage to Tribal MJ businesses), the Tribe will nonetheless receive 100% of any tax imposed. The Tribe agreed in the MJ Compact to only use the tax funds for “Essential Tribal Services”, which are defined as “services provided by the Tribe including, but not limited to, administration, public facilities, fire, police, health, education, elder care, social services, sewer, water, environmental and land use, transportation, utility services, community development, and economic development.“

Fourth, the Tribe can use its own traceability system and is not required to only use the State’s and there is a specific tax exemption for transactions involving medical marijuana used in the course of medical treatments at a medical facility owned and operated by the Tribe.

What do these MJ Compacts means for Indian Country?

Besides providing a template for how a Tribe might participate in a state-regulated MJ industry, I believe this Compact serves as another example of how Tribes and States can work collaboratively together to provide economic opportunities for both governments. Too often, we see States fighting Tribes. While Washington is not yet perfect, State politicians must acknowledge the importance of the Native vote and deal with Tribes on a government-to-government basis.

I watched the movie “Selma” recently on my long flight from Greece. I was inspired yet again by the incomparable Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to continue encouraging all our tribal members to vote! It may seem tedious, but change is never easy and always takes longer than we’d like. As we vote in our local elections and that influence filters up, we will see more States, like Washington, to begin to work together WITH us instead of against us.

When I started this blog, I didn’t think I’d end up talking about voting… but, I think this is where it was supposed to end up — climbing to our mountaintop!