Native Americans in Utah discuss policy change regarding marijuana on tribal lands

Posted at 9:49 PM, Dec 12, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-12 23:51:17-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Growing, selling and smoking marijuana on Native American reservations will no longer be illegal, according to a new Department of Justice policy.

This means people will be allowed to buy and smoke marijuana without the worry of getting in trouble as long as they don’t leave the reservation. There are eight federally recognized tribes in the state of Utah. This new policy provides them the opportunity to start springing up lucrative, weed-based businesses and attractions.

“With the climate we have here in Utah and its history, I don’t see it being taken advantage of, although nationally I could see some tribes seriously looking at it,” said Darren Parry, Vice-Chair of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation.

Parry said selling marijuana will cause more harm than good.

“If you look at the down side, at what drugs do to a society, it will be frowned upon by most,” Parry said. “Legalizing marijuana on tribal land is nothing but a negative.”

However, Parry also admits some tribes will see nothing but dollar signs.

“Tribes today are poor, there’s no other way to say it, if you drive through our reservation today there is poverty everywhere you look,” Parry said.

Sloan Sampson is a member of the Shoshone Paiute Tribe. He said it makes no sense to turn down such a lucrative business opportunity.

“I honestly think the benefits outweigh the negatives,” Sampson said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to produce revenue inside the reservations.”

With marijuana becoming legal in states like Colorado, Oregon and Washington, the demand is evident, including here in Utah.

“I think it’s better to control it than just ban it all together,” said Cora Burchett of Salt Lake City.

Parry is just worried if pot becomes the norm on Native American land, what's next?

He said: “I mean if marijuana is illegal and they’re not going to prosecute, what else could we do in the future? I think it just sets a precedent that we don’t need."

Native American tribes that decide to sell marijuana on their lands will be required to follow the same laws as states where marijuana has already been legalized.