Some tribal leaders – including Tex Hall, former tribal chairman for the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nation – want to turn marijuana into a new cash cow for reservation communities. In fact, that’s already happening in some parts of the country.
I can’t blame them for wanting to take the initiative. America’s drug prohibition policies, much like the alcohol prohibition of another era, has created vast opportunities. Better that those opportunities be served in the sunlight by entrepreneurs in Native American communities than by violent criminal gangs operating in the black market.
That being said, do we really want pot legalization to follow the path of legalized gambling?
Despite wide social acceptance of gambling, it still isn’t legal in most of America outside of enclaves like Indian reservations and Las Vegas or government-sanctioned enterprises like the various state lotteries. And some of the biggest proponents of keeping it that way are big companies who run on Indian reservations or in Vegas.
They don’t want gambling to proliferate, because they’re making big profits off the current prohibition policies. They’ve become powerful political constituencies, with armies of lobbyists, who work very hard to keep current gambling laws from changing. Because why would people travel to Las Vegas or a gambling resort on an Indian reservation if they can go to a casino right in their own backyards?
We could be at risk of the same happening should Native American tribes become players in the legalized marijuana business. Those of us who believe that marijuana prohibition should be ended shouldn’t look at tribes growing and selling legal pot as a good thing. On its face it looks like another step toward a broader sort of legalization. In reality, it’s probably a step toward further entrenching prohibitionist policies.
Again, I don’t begrudge the tribes their attempt to leverage their unique legal status to exploit misguided prohibitionist policies. But if things like marijuana use and gambling are going to become socially acceptable, why not just legalize them everywhere?
That’s what I would prefer. People gamble and people smoke pot, and policies prohibiting those things have never stopped them. They’ve only driven them underground to black markets. So why not end those policies in a broad sort of fashion instead of carving out special exemptions?