WA Law Paves Way for Marijuana Pacts With Tribes

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Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee has signed a bill that sets up a framework for his office to work with Native American tribes interested in growing and distributing cannabis.

The newly minted law gives the state the authority to enter into agreements with tribes looking to join the marijuana industry, allowing the governor’s office to set up pacts covering everything from criminal and civil law enforcement, regulatory issues and research to taxes and dispute resolution.

Tribes entering such agreements with the state would also have to adopt a tax structure that’s similar to the one set up under Washington’s recreational cannabis program, though there would be exemptions for sales “to the tribe, tribal enterprises, tribal member-owned businesses, or tribal members on marijuana grown, produced, or processed within its Indian country.”

Some industry leaders have said in the past that because of their tax-free status, American Indian cannabis businesses would have an unfair sales advantage over their non-tribal competitors. The Washington State law seems to close that loophole, forcing tribes to charge the same state and local taxes as rec shops operating outside of tribal lands.

The Warm Springs, Suquamish and Tulalips tribes, among others, have expressed interest in entering the marijuana industry, according to Northwest Public Radio (NWPR).

The law seems to be a formality, as tribes don’t need permission from states to grow and sell marijuana on native lands after the Justice Department last year told U.S. attorneys to avoid prosecution of those that decide to enter the cannabis industry. Still,  Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman said it’s necessary to avoid “any inadvertent gaps” between tribal and state laws.