By Levi Rickert
During 2017, Forbes magazine projects the cannabis industry will generate $7.1 billion in revenue, which represents a 26 percent increase from 2015. The sector is projected to reach $22 billion by 2020.
To support this revenue, employment in the cannabis industry will continue to grow. According to Marijuana Business Daily, an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 workers were employed in the cannabis industry in 2016. Based on the six states that voted to legalize medical or recreational cannabis in November, it is anticipated employment of cannabis workers and ancillary employment, which includes lighting, construction, manufacturing, and professional service firms, will grow. With the $22 billion projected during the next three years, the employment opportunities are primed to even soar.
The National Indian Cannabis Coalition (NICC), led by Executive Director Jeff Doctor (Tonawanda Band of Seneca), is building a network for tribal leadership to work together, share success and collectively advocate for parity in Indian Country.
As part of its work, NICC is monitoring the challenges facing the industry overall and as they relate to Indian Country. The challenges NICC prioritizes this year are: policy and banking.
NICC (niccunited.org) feels it is imperative that the language in current cannabis legislation is amended to include language carving out and recognizing the rights of tribes, particularly as it relates to the Farm Bill for canna-agriculture.
NICC’s vision is to work with tribes to position Indian Country as a global agricultural hemp industry leader, first and foremost by recognizing tribal sovereignty. Every tribe can have the opportunity to be involved in this industry, but needs to cautiously work within a regulatory framework that protects tribal communities. By leveraging natural resources, tribal land and labor force, NICC recognizes individual tribal nations can work together to create regional grows and processing centers that one-day lead to global distribution of industrial hemp.
The cannabis industry stands to learn a lot from how tribes have managed cash transactions in gaming, particularly in states where cannabis is already regulated. The Controlled Substances Act prohibits banking institutions from handling cannabis related business. NICC sees an opportunity to follow the regulations tribes have created for gaming and work to use that expertise to manage cannabis banking.
While the NICC is monitoring the potential for Indian Country’s involvement in the cannabis industry, the change of presidential administrations may factor in heavily the direction the federal may allow tribes to participate in the industry.
The nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions as attorney general placed a giant question mark over further cannabis developments in Indian Country. Sessions is on record as strongly opposing marijuana legalization and while states may be able to assert states’ rights as grounds for maintaining legalization within their states, tribes do not have that luxury. Indian County is, by definition, federal trust land.
There is significant risk that an Attorney General Sessions could revoke the Department of Justice memo that allows U.S. District Attorneys to make individual determinations regarding whether to enforce the Controlled Substances Act in Indian Country and replace it with a directive to enforce the CSA on all federal land, including tribal land.
Now more than ever, Indian Country and the cannabis industry need to unite in support of legislation that provides parity for tribes seeking to enter the industry. ♦