In a much-heralded decision last year, the Justice Department opened up the possibility of marijuana legalization for Native American tribes on their sovereign land. Although the new guidelines were to be determined on a case-by-case basis, DOJ advised U.S. attorneys not to interfere with legalization.
But it seems some tribes may have rushed to believe this a little too easily—the Drug Enforcement Administration has already raided the growing facilities of two California tribes, Alturas and Pit Riber.
A Huffington Post report last week detailed how special agents from the DEA, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and state and local law enforcement — a total of nearly 50 officers -- raided marijuana facilities at the Pit River Tribe’s XL Ranch and the Alturas Indian Rancheria.
According to the Sacramento Bee, they burst in on the morning of July 8, and seized 12,000 marijuana plants and 100 pounds of processed marijuana.
"You could see them coming off the hill, all the pickups and everything,” facility worker Gerri McGarva told HuffPo. “They said, ‘This is a raid, put your hands up’ before anybody stepped out of the car.”
"They told us to walk through the gates with our arms up, or they would shoot and kill us.”
In a press release, officials stated that no federal charges were pending. According to their search warrant, agents had been surveilling the tribes since April.
Pit River tribal leaders were outraged by the raid, calling it “disrespectful” and “a serious assault to the Tribe’s right to self-governance."
"We have been transparent in our conversations with the federal government and made no secret of our intent to exercise our sovereignty in the manner we believe appropriate," Pit River Tribal Chairman Mickey Gemmill Jr. said in a statement.
"We consulted with the U.S. Attorney’s Office prior to implementing our Ordinance and continued to consult with that office and other government officials throughout its implementation."
Dozens of tribes have moved to legalize marijuana after getting the go-ahead from the Justice Department. Unfortunately, the government seems to be making the most of a phrase slipped into their memo announcing the new marijuana guidelines: "nothing herein precludes investigation or prosecution."
Although the California tribes had been open in their intentions to start growing, and talked to the U.S. District Attorney, they never received an explicit non-prosecution agreement.
Read more on the story here.