Yakama Nation says it won't legalize pot on reservation

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As Washington state moves forward on rolling out recreational marijuana regulations, the Yakama Nation has decided not to join in legalization efforts.

Marijuana remains illegal on the 1.2 million-acre reservation, said George Colby, an attorney representing the Yakama Nation. Under the tribe’s treaty, he said, the citizens of Washington lack the authority to legalize recreational use on tribal lands.

“We want to put out public information for those that want to grow, sell and distribute that they are not welcome on Yakama Nation lands,” Colby said last week.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board, the group charged with designing the state’s new regulations, took the tribe’s recommendation and added a rule that requires notifying the tribal government if anyone applies for a permit on tribal land. If the tribal government then submits an objection, the board can deny the permit.

Brian Smith, a spokesman for the Liquor Control Board said that while the state rules don’t specifically prohibit issuing permits on the Yakama reservation, the reservation lands are subject to federal jurisdiction, and marijuana remains illegal under federal laws.

“Why grant a license when the federal government is going to come in and take them down?” Smith said.

In a letter published on seattlepi.com last week, Tribal Council Chairman Harry Smiskin praised Yakama law enforcement efforts to shut down marijuana grow operations on the reservation.

Smiskin wrote that the tribal government will continue to call in federal law enforcement on marijuana operations, if necessary.

“We do not want our people, or anyone else, to use, grow or sell marijuana on our lands,” Smiskin wrote. “We have had a long and unpleasant history with marijuana — just as we have had with alcohol. We fight them both on our lands.”

Moves by the tribal government a decade ago to enforce a 150-year-old alcohol ban on the reservation have been complicated by the fact that most of the property in the cities of Toppenish and Wapato are deeded land owned by nontribal members, including proprietors of bars and stores.

In that case, a federal court judge said that the Yakamas’ ban would probably not be enforceable in cities on the reservation.

This time, Colby said, the state was receptive to the Yakamas’ concerns and worked to include the tribal land exemption in the new marijuana regulations that would apply across the entire reservation, including the incorporated towns.

“If somebody wants to apply for licenses in the city of Wapato, Toppenish or Harrah, they are going to have to apply for permission from the tribal government,” Colby said.

Smith said the Yakama Nation has made it clear to the Liquor Control Board that it has no interest in anyone receiving permits for marijuana operations on reservation land.

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