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Native Americans: A shift from Casino to Cannabis, the legalization and its impact

The news about legalization of marijuana was abuzz amongst the native Americans since its inception and was presumed to pave a way for tribal cannabis as a manifestation for tribal sovereignty.

The lawyers and policy people had talks regarding state laws; and the cultural, social and political ramifications of legalisation. Tribal leaders discussed how crucial the legalisation of cannabis could possibly be for the tribal community and could become a principal part of the industry if not an entirely independent one.

Casino is the parent industry of cannabis in an unadulterated way for the tribal community. The casino’s arrival in the Indian country had a defining effect on the social and economic lives of the Indians in the past 50 years. By 1987, the gaming enterprises were under way across the country, with the largest concentration of casinos in California and Oklahoma.

With increased education, support for the poor and unemployed, better health care systems, the tribal community had undergone a drastic change only to come out stronger than ever. Within a year of the tribes winning the right to open casinos in California, gaming was bringing $100million a year.

Despite of the IGRA (Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) Act which confided the process by which tribes used to administer gambling, the revenue was ramped up from $100m in 1988 to $24bn in 2009.

However, with growing business, the consumer market for casinos had narrowed down and restricted to a certain class of the society leaving out the majority. Casinos not only created a wealth gap in the Indian country but threw into stark relief the vexing question of who gets to be known as Indian at all.

In order to determine who had a high enough degree to be classified as an Indian – and whose rights could be restricted as a result, a “blood quantum” law was passed in Virginia in 1705. The law was flawed and entailed wildly inaccurate information, was culturally incongruous and socially divisive.

Even when America has transformed in the last few decades, the law about tribal communities remain as stringent and untamed as they were. In fact, the casino-rich tribes in California, Michigan, Oregon and other states themselves use this practice of determining an Indian to disenroll tribal bloodlines not considered pure enough.

As of 2017, more than 8,000 tribal members had been banished or disenrolled over the past decade. While many have justified this cause, the most potential reason says that 73% of the tribes actively kicking out tribal members have gaming operation.

The wave about legalisation of cannabis had literally opened alleys for the Indian community to cater to a larger audience at a multiplied scale with massive revenue generation. But apprehensions about how the tribal community would interact the business market had always been in place.

Nonetheless, the economic opportunity offered by the cannabis market rests with the relationship between the native American communities and both the federal and state governments of the United States.

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According to the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, the federal government deals with American Indian tribes as it would with any other sovereign nation. The bureau also attempts to define the authorities’ states have over the American Indians living on reservations within the state’s border.

“Furthermore, federally recognized tribes possess both the right and the authority to regulate activities on their lands independently from state government control,” reads the Bureau’s website. “They can enact and enforce stricter or more lenient laws and regulations than those of the surrounding or neighbouring state(s) wherein they are located. Yet, tribes frequently collaborate and cooperate with states through compacts or other agreements on matters of mutual concern such as environmental protection and law enforcement.”

The production and distribution of cannabis is still ambiguous to the tribal community. It will depend on how the states government exercises its power on tribal land and what’s left at the discretion of the tribal government.

It is indeed confusing and frustrating for the tribal about investing in cannabis. Cannabis had landed in the market with a strong potential, but how will it impact the tribal community still remains unanswered.

Ivan writes about Cannabis at The Cannabis Radar. He has a degree in Nutrition Sciences from University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Centre. He likes to spend his spare time reading to his daughter or spending time with his wife.

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