Native American Tribes Embracing the Cannabis Industry

By Amelia B.
As today and tomorrow mark the fourth year for the Annual Native American Cannabis & Hemp Conference in Alpine, California. We thought it a good time to take a moment to honor Native Americans’ history with and wisdom regarding the plant.

The 4th Annual Event in CA

Prominent leaders and experts in the cannabis industry will meet at the Viejas Casino and Resort to discuss the most recent policy changes allowing Native Americans to take advantage of the booming market for the plant they hold sacred.

For any Native American tribe that is curious about how to tap into this market, this conference provides an opportunity to learn the ever-changing ins and outs of the legal, economic, and social aspects of canna-business and cultivation.

There are benefits offered to businesses on reserve land, and existing business professionals are looking to team up with interested tribes to discuss potential collaborations. Tribal leaders and council members will meet with professionals in canna-business, insurance, finance, and law to gain an understanding of the current challenges as well as potential risks and benefits of canna-ventures.


Tribe members will receive information and presentations on available technology and speak with risk managers, financial officers, economic development professionals, consultants and Government agency representatives to determine the best way for their reservations to move forward.

Is that Exploitation We Smell?


 Looking at this conference from afar, the white folk looking to cash in by taking advantage of and exploiting the indigenous tribes they have already raped, pillaged, massacred, and sucked dry several times throughout history is all too apparent. This is not the Native’s first rodeo and they have every reason to be skeptical.

On the other hand, these conferences may indeed provide actual insight and aide natives in navigating this confusing new industry landscape, which may in turn benefit reservation communities economically and socially…so we guess that sort of makes it a good thing, if these tribes can bring themselves to trust the white man yet again after everything.

Stereotyping Native Americans as Naked Peace-pipe Toting Hippies


There are many different Native American cultures, each with their own specific beliefs, customs, and cultures, and there were even more before the Colonists wiped them out, so it is important not to lump them all together.

Writer and ¾ Native American descendant of mixed tribes, Allister Greene, mentions the stereotype of a Pan-Indian icon smoking a “peace pipe.” He explains that colonial America has a “long-standing tradition of grouping all natives into one basic image of a man, almost naked, a peace pipe in his hand and a feathered headdress on his long-haired head, and no clue about the ‘modern’ world.”

“Claiming this is a true representation of Native Americans is like saying all white people wear Dutch wood shoes.”

Greene clarifies, “Not all tribes use pipes, though most do in some fashion. There are prayer pipes, blessing pipes, emblem pipes, ceremonial pipes, and a few others. In some tribes, everyone has their own, but in most, certain people within the tribe, and in most clans, someone in the family, is considered a pipe-carrier—a ceremonial duty.”

Although cannabis was growing in North America long before the Colonists arrived, both as wild and cultivated plants and one ingredient of many used in herbal pipe blends, it has had many varied uses within Native American cultures. One belief that remains central across all Native American tribes is that all plants are sacred. Many herbs are used for various purposes.

The Roles of Cannabis in Native American Cultures


While not every tribe used hemp and it was not incorporated into all religions, some believed Hemp was, “the plant of the Gods.” It was regarded as a stimulant and psychological aid in various ceremonies. Visionaries of the highest regard used hemp in their sacred pipes, saying cannabis increased the intensity of their visions.

Some natives used marijuana to intensify social contact, holding the belief that “those who smoke together make peace.”

Many tribes recognized the healing powers of Cannabis. After soaking and softening the leaves of the plant, they used them to fight “wind in the body,” aiding in digestion. They used roots as an anti-inflammatory throughout the body. Some tribes smoked it to “get them going” following recovery from an illness.

It was not uncommon among tribes to use hemp for textiles. Many recognized the versatility and strength in the fibers of hemp, using it to make rope and fabric.

Can Tribes Overcome their Wariness of the U.S. Government to Reap the Benefits?

Marijuana is legal on  Indian Reservations. A clarifying memo in December 2014 stated that the federal government's non-interference policies that applied to the 50 states, would also apply to the 326 recognized American Indian reservations-- Yes, they still call it that.

However, tribes remain hesitant due not only to the aforementioned long and sordid history of the U.S. committing unimaginable atrocities against them, but also uncertainties in federal policy, which they fear could change at any time without warning under the Trump administration. Let’s be honest, in the current political climate, who could blame them?

Untaxable Income Increases Profit Margins


Native American tribes growing cannabis on reservation land can reap major tax benefits. Currently, state cannabis producers, as well as retailers, are not allowed to deduct business expenses on their tax forms because their product is still a federally prohibited substance. As a result, they are paying a larger percentage of their earnings in taxes.

Recognized native tribes, as well as tribal companies, are not required to pay federal or state income tax for reservation operations and businesses.  

Cannabis consultor Leslie Bocskor says, “This effectively creates a profit margin, versus non-tribally own cannabis businesses, of what could be up to 85 percent.” Bocskor is the founder of Electrum Partners, an advisory services firm specializing in medical and adult use cannabis.

This is undoubtedly why so many opportunities are suddenly becoming available to native tribes. To existing cannabis companies, this situation is a win-win. They get the PR boost of looking like they are doing community outreach for the long-overlooked Natives of our country while raking in the cash hand over fist. Let's just hope that at least Native Tribes make sure they are getting a fair deal. 

Natives are 100 percent right to be wary of professional help from a country who has pulled the rug out from under them countless times throughout the last 500 years. As for the future of reservation-based cannabis companies, it's anyone’s guess. It is likely to depend on the outcome of the 2018 midterms as well as impending U.S. decriminalization legislature.

So, as always, don’t forget to vote blue next month!


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About the author: Amelia B.

Amelia B is a wife, a preschool teacher, and a mother of two young children. She enjoys camping, hiking, cooking, reading, traveling, listening to live local music, refurbishing furniture, and creating works of art.