American Indian Tribes in the Cannabis Industry

The Uncertainties in New Business Opportunities

What did Indians smoke? Cannabis is not an indigenous plant. It was brought to America by Europeans. Early tribes smoked either Nicotiana Rustica, a wild tobacco, or kinnikinnick, an herbal mixture of leaves and barks.

Tribal Enterprises in the Cannabis Industry

May 2018

News The Rebirth of Tribal Hemp
April 21, 2016 - Many American Indian tribes are planning to farm hemp as a new source of income. Among them are the Coliville, Meskwaki, Mandan, Menominee and Lakota. ... Read more
News Paiute Tribe's marijuana dispensary sponsors Las Vegas Lights April 13, 2018 - The Las Vegas Lights soccer team has a new sponsorship from NuWu Cannabis Marketplace, a marijuana dispensary owned by the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe. ... Read more News Trump lifts legal threat to state marijuana laws
April 13, 2018 - The President announced he will allow states continue their legalized marijuana laws without prosecution from the Department of Justice. ... Read more
News Rand Paul Supports Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill March 13, 2018 - U.S. Senator Rand Paul is giving his support for a state bill being proposed that would legalize marijuana for medical use in the state of Kentucky. ... Read more News Oklahoma places medical marijuana on June ballot May 4, 2018 - Oklahoma voters will decide whether or not to legalize medical marijuana. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation has expressed interest in farming and selling it. ... Read more Continued

February 2018

News U.S. Governors ignoring Sessions marijuana enforcement February 27, 2018 - During the annual meeting of our nation's governors there were many discussions about implementing state marijuana regulations. Sec. Sessions did not attend. ... Read more News Will California Tribes start own cannabis industry?
February 27, 2018 - Many of the 100 American Indian tribes in California are looking for ways of develop an alternative cannabis industries as sovereign nations. ... Read more
News Alberta defines rules for cannabis retail stores
February 16, 2018 - The new Alerta marijuana distribution regulations were recently released defining legal ways to sell marijuana and provide safe products to the Alberta citizens. ... Read more
News California Tribal Cannabis Licenses are Hindered by State Government February 14, 2018 - California is making it more difficult for American Indian Tribes to obtain cannabis resale licenses by restricting the tribes to work with only California licensed companies. ... Read more News St. Croix Tribe Sues State To Grow Hemp
February 12, 2018 - A lawsuit has been filed by the St. Croix Chippewa Indians against the State of Wisconsin for trying to stop the tribe's production of hemp oil. ... Read more
News St. Croix Chippewa sue State over hemp business February 9, 2018 - The tribe has sued the Wisconsin state attorney general for trying to prevent the production of hemp oil on sovereign reservation land ... Read more News Ridgecrest Tribe prohibits cannabis
February 9, 2018 - Amid rumors of plans to grow and sell cannabis on their reservation, the Timbisha Shoshone Tribal Chairman stated that the tribe will "never condone, sell, or carry cannabis" in the city of Ridgecrest. ... Read more
News Congress May Block DOJ Prosecution of Medical Marijuana in 2-Year Budget
February 2, 2018 - A budget deal may block the DOJ from money needed to enforce anti-cannabis laws in states that has voter approval for medical marijuana ... Read more

January 2018

News White Bear First Nation seeks marijuana dispensary January 27, 2018 - The White Bear First Nation is considering options for operating a marijuana dispensary on their reservation. ... Read more News Suquamish Tribe open Agate Dreams dispensary January 27, 2018 - When recreational cannabis sales become legal in the state of Washington, the Suquamish tribe decided to open a dispensary named Agate Dreams. ... Read more News Ely Shoshone open marijuana dispensary January 8, 2018 - On the Ely Shoshone Tribal land is a cannabis dispensary named Tsaa Nesunkwa. It opened in October offering medical marijuana. Now it sells marijuana for recreational use. ... Read more News Nevada Tribes and their cannabis businesses January 7, 2018 - Last year SB 375 was signed into law giving way to the legal selling of marijuana. This may be a lucrative business for Nevada's Native ... Read more News S'Klallam Tribe will open "High Point" a marijuana retail store on March 3   January 4, 2018 - High Point will begin selling marijuana March 3, 2018 in a temporary building just north of the tribe's Gliding Eagle Market. ... Read more News U.S. Justice Dept Rescinds All Obama Marijuana Policies January 4, 2018 - The DOJ today rescinded all cannabis policies of the Obama Administration that allowed states to decide their own laws on recreational and medical cannabis. ... Read more


News Las Vegas Paiute Tribe Opens "Nuwu Cannabis Marketplace" in Downtown Las Vegas 10.17.2017 - Nuwu Cannabis Marketplace is a 15,500 square foot marijuana dispensary located in downtown Las Vegas. ... Read more News First Nevada Tribes Sign Marijuana Compacts
08.03.2017 - Nevada' governor has signed the first state marijuana compacts with tow tribes: the Ely Shoshone Tribe and the Yerington Paiute Tribe. ... Read more
News St. Croix Chippewa Will Grow Hemp for CBD Oil
09.27.2017 - The tribe plans to grow hemp for medical use. They will produce CBD Oil which contains low levels of THC. ... Read more

Cannabis Businesses on American Indian Reservations

The United States government recognizes 568 tribes as sovereign nations and their lands as sovereign lands. Of these tribes there are 333 living in 33 states and the remainder living in Alaska.


In November 2012 Colorado and Washington voted to legalize the sale and possession of cannabis, which are violations the federal Controlled Substance Act (CSA). This prompted the U.S. Justice Department to issue a policy statement regarding enforcement guidelines for U.S. Attorneys in these states with legalized marijuana.

The Justice Department policy, known as the Cole Memorandum, was published August 29, 2013 telling federal prosecutors and law enforcement to not obstruct state marijuana laws if the drug is regulated to insure key federal priorities. Federal enforcement priorities were distribution to minors, DUI, sales by gangs and cartels, possession or use on federal property, transfers to non-legalized states, drug trafficking, or violence.

Several American Indian tribes were concerned about marijuana legalization and asked the Justice Department to clarify its position for marijuana on tribal lands.

The DOJ followed with the Wilkinson Memo, "Policy Statement Regarding Marijuana Issues in Indian Country," dated October 28, 2014. It parallels the Cole Memo by defining and limiting the conditions for U.S. Attorneys to enforce federal marijuana laws on tribal lands. Tribes will not be prosecuted for growing, processing and selling marijuana inside states that have legalized the drug. This includes medical marijuana per the DOJ's 2009 Ogden Memo.

There remains great uncertainty of enforcement on tribal lands in other states where the drug is illegal. Several tribes are exploring these opportunities and legalities and waiting for further guidance from the federal government.

U.S. Justice Dept Rescinds All Obama-era Marijuana Policies

On January 4, 2018 Attorney General Sessions announced the repeal of all department regulatory memorandums that attempt to supercede Congressional legislation. This include these specific DOJ marijuana policies:

  • Cole Memo 2013: "Guidance Regarding Marijuana Enforcement" Cole Memo (PDF)

  • Wilkinson Memo 2014: "Policy Statement Regarding Marijuana Issues in Indian Country" Wilkinson Memo (PDF)

  • Ogden Memo 2009: "Investigations and Prosecutions in States Authorizing the Medical Use of Marijuana" Ogden Memo (PDF)

The Cole Memorandum in 2013 set guidelines for non-enforcement of the the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) in states that legalize marijuana. The Wilkinson Memorandum 2014 gave similar guidelines for marijuana on American Indian reservations.

The rescinded memoranda were department and not federal law passed by Congress and signed by the president.

The repeal action was issued as a DOJ Memorandum titled "Prohibition on Improper Guidance Documents", dated November 16, 2017. Session Memo (PDF)

The immediate reaction from state officials and industry figures was shock and defiance. Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado made this statement in response to the policy rescission:

"Thirty states comprising more than two-thirds of the American people have legalized marijuana in some form. The Cole memo got it right and was foundational in guiding states' efforts to regulate the production and distribution of marijuana."

"Colorado has created a comprehensive regulatory system committed to supporting the will of our voters. We constantly evaluate and seek to strengthen our approach to regulation and enforcement. Our focus will continue to be the public health and public safety of our citizens. We are expanding efforts to eliminate the black market and keep marijuana out of the hands of minors and criminals. Today's decision does not alter the strength of our resolve in those areas, nor does it change my constitutional responsibilities."

States where Marijuana Is Illegal in 2018

There are 20 states with lawas against any use of marijuana: Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

Will Tribes Continue to Sell Cannabis?

Jan 5, 2018

The federal policy change has tribes seeking more DOJ information and guidance regarding their business future.

Tribal Cannabis Consulting works with Nevada tribes to develop their marijuana sales. Cassandra Dittus, co-founder and president of the group, said tribal businesses are in a "holding pattern."

"We would hope that the tribal programs that are up and running in the state of Nevada would not be an enforcement priority for the Department of Justice's resources as the programs are very robustly regulated and not a threat or a danger to the community."

"The community desires this, the voters approved this and the tribal program is extremely regulated."

State-by-State Cannabis and American Indian Tribes

Some tribes have banned marijuana on their reservations. Some tribes are evaluating potential business opporutnities. Other tribes have already started marijuana businesses. For information on these tribes, select a state below:

Select a State

9 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for recreational and medical use.
21 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.
Illegal in 20 states.