Omaha Tribe considering trying to legalize marijuana

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The Omaha Tribe of Nebraska is considering getting into the marijuana business, but at least one tribal expert fears doing so could put the tribe at risk of losing any investment it may make in marijuana industries.

Omaha Tribe members will vote Tuesday on whether the tribe should allow recreational use of marijuana, medicinal use of marijuana and growing industrial hemp on its northeast Nebraska reservation, the Lincoln Journal Star reported (http://bit.ly/1WnjUVk ) Saturday.

The ultimate decision lies with the Tribal Council. The referendum vote simply will give the council guidance on whether to move forward.

It would be difficult for the Omaha Tribe to legalize the use or manufacture of marijuana on its reservation, despite a U.S. Department of Justice memo issued last year on the subject, said tribal law expert Lance Morgan, who also is CEO the Winnebago Tribe’s economic development arm, Ho-Chunk Inc.

Morgan said the memo doesn’t actually allow tribes to legalize marijuana. Rather, it allows them to work with local U.S. attorneys to do so. Morgan says U.S. attorneys in many states have been unwilling to allow tribes to move forward.

Morgan pointed to federal raids of tribal hemp operations in California and Wisconsin earlier this year in which federal agents seized and destroyed thousands of hemp and cannabis plants.

The Justice Department memo has encouraged tribes across the country to launch expensive marijuana and hemp operations, Morgan said, and now some of those tribes have discovered they don’t actually have the right to legalize marijuana.

“This is just one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen come out of D.C.,” he said. “Encouraging us to invest capital, and then coming in and destroying that capital and raiding the tribe doesn’t make any sense at all.”

Morgan said the Winnebago Tribe has discussed legalizing marijuana, but has no plans to do so.

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