Phoenix-Area Native American Communities Mum on Legalizing Pot

Legal marijuana could be a reality in the Phoenix area even if pot remains illegal under Arizona law.

News broke last week that the Justice Department is advising federal prosecutors not to stop tribes from growing or selling marijuana on their lands, even in states where marijuana remains illegal.

According to the Justice Department memo, some tribes had requested guidance on how federal drug laws would be enforced in regards to marijuana, although it didn't say exactly which tribes were curious.

We checked with a couple of Phoenix-area Native American communities, and they're staying mum on the issue.

See also: -Medical-Marijuana Law Doesn't Apply on Loop 101 From McKellips to 90th Street

"The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community does not have a position on this issue at this time," says Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community spokeswoman Candace Romero.

Across town, a spokeswoman for the Gila River Indian Community didn't respond to an e-mail requesting comment.

(Both reservations are home to members of the Pima and Maricopa tribes.)

The Los Angeles Times, which broke this story last week, reported:

"It remains to be seen how many reservations will take advantage of the policy. Many tribes are opposed to legalizing pot on their lands, and federal officials will continue to enforce the law in those areas, if requested."
In the event that a tribe does want to legalize marijuana, there are still rules, and eight of them are outlined in the Justice Department memo. It includes things like not distributing pot to minors, or collaborating with drug cartels, or using legalized marijuana as some sort of cover for other illegal activity.

"Indian Country includes numerous reservations and tribal lands with diverse sovereign governments, many of which traverse state borders and federal districts," the Justice Department memo states. "Given this, the United States Attorneys recognize that effective federal law enforcement in Indian Country, including marijuana enforcement, requires consultation with our tribal partners in the districts and flexibility to confront the particular, yet sometimes divergent, public safety issues that can exist on any single reservation."

Both of the tribal governments we contacted are currently home to establishments with "sinful" businesses, like casinos or tobacco shops. To that extent, legal marijuana might not be much of a stretch, although it currently remains illegal to possess marijuana on these tribal lands.

The Salt River Maricopa-Pima Indian Community currently has some strict anti-pot laws, like the fact that they don't recognize Arizona's medical marijuana program. A medical-pot patient has even had his car seized for driving down Loop 101 with his medicine.

There are more than 20 Native American reservations in Arizona.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley