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Other tribal marijuana laws and policies remain in effect

At this point, the ONLY thing that has changed is that tribal members will no longer face criminal prosecution for medical marijuana if they have complied with the Michigan medical marijuana law.—John Wernet, General Counsel

 

At the June 12 Sault Tribe Board of Directors meeting, the board made a small but significant change to the tribe’s Criminal Code relating to marijuana. Tribal members who use or possess small amounts of marijuana will no longer face criminal prosecution in tribal court if they have a valid state of Michigan medical marijuana card and if their use or possession of the drug is in full compliance with the state’s medical marijuana law.

It is important that tribal members understand what exactly this amendment does and does not do.

If you are a tribal member, the use or possession of marijuana on the reservation is still a tribal crime—unless you have a Michigan medical marijuana card and your marijuana use and possession fully complies with the state law. Tribal members will still face prosecution if they are found with marijuana but do not have a Michigan medical marijuana card or if, for example, they have more marijuana than is allowed under the Michigan law.

But this change to the Criminal Code is the only change that the board has made at this point. There has been no change to any of the other non-criminal marijuana laws and policies that apply on the reservation.

For example, the tribe’s Human Resources policies still list marijuana as a “prohibited drug” for purposes of tribal employment. That policy has not been changed at this time. That means that team members can still be suspended or terminated if they are found with marijuana or if they have a positive drug test for marijuana—even if they possess a medical marijuana card.

Tribal housing still has a “zero tolerance” drug policy and that policy still requires the eviction of tenants who are found to be in possession of marijuana – even if they have a medical marijuana card. And, there has been no change to health center policies or practices related to marijuana—our health center still does not prescribe medical marijuana and, if patients are found to be using marijuana for pain control, they will usually not be able to obtain a prescription for other pain medications from our health center.

It is also important to be aware that possession of marijuana, with or without a medical marijuana card, is still a violation of federal law. Federal prosecutors do not usually bring charges for possession of a small amount of medical marijuana but that is not something the tribe can guarantee or control—the tribe has no say in the decisions of federal prosecutors.

Removing tribal criminal penalties for medical marijuana was a significant step by the board. But it was just a first step and a modest one at that. At this point the ONLY thing that has changed is that tribal members will no longer face criminal prosecution for medical marijuana if they have complied with the Michigan medical marijuana law. It seems likely that the board will be reviewing the tribe’s other laws and policies on marijuana in the future. And, it is possible that some of those other laws and policies may also be changed at some future date. But for now at least, tribal members should exercise caution. They need to understand that, while they may no longer face prosecution for possession of small amounts of medical marijuana, the use or possession of marijuana can still lead to very serious consequences for some members of the tribal community, including tribal employees, residents of tribal housing and patients at the tribal health center.

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Photo by Ken Bosma / CC BY