What the decision allowing tribes to legalize marijuana on reservations means

The U.S. Department of Justice released a memo Thursday saying that American Indian tribes can legalize marijuana in their territories as long as they follow the same conditions required of states that have legalized the drug.

What does it mean?

The guidance would allow American Indian tribes to grow and sell marijuana on tribal lands even in states where the drug is illegal, which could create pockets of legal marijuana across the country.

The decision could lead to an economic boom for tribes if they decide to tap into the growing legal market for marijuana. But American Indian communities, some of which have struggled with high rates of drug and alcohol use, may be wary of embracing the drug.

If tribal governments do decide to legalize marijuana, they'll have to abide by eight conditions, including preventing the drug's distribution to minors, ensuring that revenue from the sale of the drug doesn't go to criminals and preventing drugged driving. It's the same relationship the federal government has established with states that legalized marijuana.

Why has it happened?

The federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance, but the agency has loosened enforcement in recent years as states legalized marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. Washington D.C. and 23 states, including Minnesota, have legalized the medical use of marijuana. Voters in Colorado, Oregon, Alaska and Washington have voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

The guidance from the Department of Justice was requested by a number of tribes following an August 2013 decision from the agency not to enforce federal marijuana laws in states where the drug has been legalized.

Is it possible in Minnesota?

Yes, it's possible, but Oregon U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall has said only three tribes in the country have shown interest in growing marijuana. A number of tribes that were contacted by MPR News about the decision declined to comment, or didn't respond to interview requests. A spokesperson from the U.S. Attorney's Office for Minnesota said no tribes in the state have contacted the office about the decision.

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