Wyoming Native American Tribes Plan Vote on Legalizing Medical Marijuana

A year after they formed a committee to investigate the benefits of medical marijuana, the Eastern Shoshone tribe will put the matter to a vote.
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Leaders of the Eastern Shoshone Native American tribe in Wyoming will consider the legalization of medical marijuana in a vote that could take place as soon as this weekend, according to media reports. The Eastern Shoshone share the Wind River Reservation in central Wyoming with another tribe, the Northern Arapaho. 

Last year, members of the Eastern Shoshone announced that they were exploring the potential economic benefits of hemp and medical marijuana. And this Saturday, the issue could come up for a vote by the tribe’s General Council, reports the Casper Star-Tribune. The tribe has no plans to legalize the recreational use of cannabis at this time.

The General Council, which is made up of all of the tribe’s adult members, voted to explore the legalization of hemp and medical marijuana at a meeting in September. A legalization measure was on the agenda for the Eastern Shoshone council’s January meeting but the lack of a quorum prevented a vote. 

The legalization of medical marijuana and hemp cultivation was also on the Northern Arapahoe General Council’s agenda in December but a vote was not taken because of the lack of a quorum at that meeting, too. The issue may be taken up again by the council at a meeting later this month.

Challenging Stigma and Changing Minds

Bobbi Shongutsie is an Eastern Shoshone tribal member who has been leading the effort into researching the agricultural opportunities for industrial hemp and medical marijuana on the reservation. Although some tribal members have been resistant to the idea, she said that a series of educational events has begun to change some tribal members’ perceptions about cannabis.

“New faces are out there talking about it on a positive note,” said Shongutsie. “If we bring these people here, and they hear it and they see it for themselves, they’re going to believe us.”

Shongutsie said that legalization would offer employment opportunities for tribal members who often have to leave the reservation to find work. The medicinal use of cannabis is also attractive to many Native Americans, who have a long tradition of using natural plant medicines. Medical marijuana would give a new option to tribal members whose chronic pain has led to the use and sometimes abuse of powerful painkillers.

“It’s hurting our people,” Shongutsie said of opioid abuse. “And not only that … there’s going to be … jobs if we get that here, from growing to building to processing to selling it.”

Although both the medical and recreational use of marijuana is still forbidden by Wyoming state law and federal law, several Native American tribes have legalized cannabis on their reservations under a 2014 U.S. Department of Justice policy not to interfere with cannabis activity on tribal land. The Oglala Sioux Tribe is expected to vote soon on a proposal that would legalize both medical marijuana and recreational pot on their Pine Ridge Reservation in western South Dakota.

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