As tribes eye med marijuana, prosecutor vows ‘discretion ’ in enforcement

RIVERTON — Responding to a new push for medicinal marijuana legalization on the Wind River Indian Reservation, United States Attorney Mark Klaassen was non-confrontational. “The United States Attorney's Office recognizes and respects the sovereignty of Native American Indian Tribes in their self-governance,” read a statement from the U.S. Attorney's office in Cheyenne. “(We) will continue to work with them to uphold the rule of law on tribal lands." 

When states or localized government systems legalize marijuana for medicinal or recreational uses, it doesn't change the fact that the drug is illegal in federal law. 

"For that reason," said Klaassen's statement, "our office will continue our enforcement practices," but will exercise "prosecutorial discretion in accordance with Department of Justice guidance." 

Marijuana is listed as a controlled substance under federal law. Possession of marijuana is punishable federally by up to one year's incarceration and no less than $1,000 in fines for first offenders, a maximum of two years and a minimum of $2,500 for the second conviction, and up to three years – and no less than $5,000 in fines – after multiple offenses. 

Transfer of marijuana is punishable by up to five years for fewer than 50 kilograms, but up to life imprisonment for greater than 1,000 kg, with varying punishments in between. 

Cultivation carries comparable penalties. 

Both the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribe are in talks to legalize medicinal cannabis use and hemp growth on the reservation. 

The Eastern Shoshone General Council met to take its final vote on legalization Jan. 25, but following lengthy discussions of roughly $28 million in debts accrued by tribe-owned Shoshone Rose Casino & Hotel, several voters left, and the mandatory quorum of 75 enrolled members was lost. 

The General Council was unable to vote on medicinal cannabis legalization, as well as other issues that were on the agenda. The next voter meeting is slated for March 14.