Last year, as California officials drafted the regulations governing the state’s adult-use cannabis industry, tribal leaders attempted to negotiate a deal allowing them to start state-legal canna-businesses on their own lands. The parties failed to strike an agreement by the legalization deadline of January 1st, and the current regulations now require tribes to waive their “sovereign immunity” if they want to apply for a state cannabis license. Without a license, the tribes are not officially allowed to grow, process, or sell cannabis legally within the state.
The tribes are not beholden to state law and the California Native American Cannabis Association recently wrote a letter to state officials warning that tribes have the right “to engage in commercial cannabis activities through our own inherent sovereign authority,” have cannabis agreements with state officials, and other tribes are negotiating similar agreements.
In 2014, the Department of Justice issued the Wilkinson Memo, advising federal prosecutors and law enforcement that tribal lands were still subject to federal cannabis laws. Until legislation that protects cannabis operations from federal intervention are enacted, tribes are stuck in a legal grey zone between state legality and federal prohibition.