Debate About Growing Pot on Reservation Continues
By SCOTTIE LEE MEYERS, Two Rivers Tribune
Hoopa Valley Tribal member Arthur Jones Sr. circulated a petition in March to put a referendum on the election ballot to repeal Title 34, the Marijuana Cultivation Suppression Ordinance. Passed in November 1999, the ordinance prohibits cultivation of marijuana or possession of any live marijuana plant on the Hoopa Reservation.
Tribal members were never given the opportunity to vote on the referendum because Jones failed to gather enough signatures to put in on the ballot. Hoopa’s election ordinance states that a petition must be signed by twenty-percent of the Tribe’s registered voters. The signatures must be gathered within 30 days.
“The tribal election board never told me I had a limited time to get signatures,” said Jones. He got close to 300 signatures before the petition was lost when he lent it to someone. Lost with it an opportunity for the Tribe to officially vote on the contentious issue. Jones’ petition effort sparked a community debate on Title 34.
A state-wide voter initiative, the California Compassionate Use Act (Prop 215), was passed in 1996 to allow patients with a valid doctor’s recommendation to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal medicinal use.
Under federal law, growing, possession, or distribution of marijuana is still a crime. However, there are signs across the nation that federal enforcement of these laws may be weakening in states that have passed compassionate use laws.
Just last week, members of congress introduced a bill that would end federal marijuana prohibition.
But Indian reservations are put into a peculiar situation because they rely heavily on federal grant money.
But proponents seeking to repeal Title 34 cite that California is a Public Law 280 state and that because the state has allowed the growth of marijuana for medical purposes, then Hoopa should be governed by state law rather than tribal ordinances when it comes to cultivation of marijuana.
PL 280 is a federal law that transferred federal law enforcement jurisdiction to state governments in six states, including California. State law enforcement agencies can take tribal members to state courts for prosecution in criminal cases arising within reservation boundaries.
“If the state says we’re allowed to grow marijuana for our own medical use, then that’s the law that should apply,” said Jones.
But the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and unofficially newly-reelected Hoopa Tribal Chairman Leonard Masten don’t follow Jones’ logic.
“It’s a possibility that they could lose federal funding,” said Amy Dutschke, Regional Manager of the BIA. “I don’t know if it has ever happened before, but it is possible.”
Dutschke said those who think Indian reservations are protected by the clout of PL 280 are misinterpreting the law. “PL 280 is an enforcement mechanism, not a regulatory one.”
Either way Chairman Masten won’t risk federal money. “I have no problem with 215,” said Masten, “But I won’t jeopardize the federal funding we get.”
In 2007, Round Valley Indian Tribes in Northern Mendocino County began to allow the growing of marijuana on their reservation. Round Valley President Kenneth Wright said he was reluctant at first, but ultimately conceded to allow it because several people were killed over the pot trade. Wright said before the ordinance was enacted, growers went anywhere they wanted to. Now tribal law holds them to grow in specific areas.
Hoopa has had major eradications in past years. Masten says the grows are linked to dangerous Mexican cartels. Last year, law enforcement eradicated a 100,000 plant operation on the reservation and the year before than a 30,000 plant grow.
Darin Jarnaghan, a forest manager in Hoopa, says he’s not ignorant of the fact that some people need medical marijuana, but he fully supports the Tribe’s ban. He’s seen the effects marijuana grows have had on local animals.
Rats chew marijuana plant stalks that are laced with pesticides. That works up the food chain when Pacific Fishers, a bird that’s on the waiting list to being endangered, eat the rats and die. Jarnaghan said six Pacific Fishers have died in the last year because of eating pesticide contaminated rats. The pesticides were analyzed and found to be almost exclusively from Mexico.
“The Tribe voted to have zero tolerance for marijuana and I will enforce that and it’s something I take very seriously,” said Masten. But if another petition circulates and this time gathers enough signatures in the appropriate time, the Tribe could vote to direct marijuana enforcement in a new direction.
Jones estimates that there are a sufficient number of tribal members living on the reservation who would benefit from being able to grow small amounts of marijuana for their own medical use and that is worth the effort of petitioning the Hoopa Tribe to repeal Title 34.
“We’re just trying to abide by state law,” said Jones. “We need to take this back to the people.”
What other people are saying:
“More people are out of their minds on legal prescriptions like Oxycontin, marijuana isn’t the problem.” – Arthur Jones Sr.
“If the situation was different on the reservation with drug use, I would have a different opinion. But allowing the growing of marijuana on the reservation would just complicate the situation. It’s not a perfect ordinance, it needs to be cleaned up.” – Byron Nelson
“I don’t have a problem with it. How much pain medication is being dispensed by Indian Health Services hospital – why is it any different? The ordinance language is archaic and outdated.” –Lyle Marshall