Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman
USA: Tribal marijuana regulation is a public health must
August 19, 2021
Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman
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With the legalization of recreational marijuana gradually sweeping across the states – and the possibility of state legalization – the tribes are in a unique position to capitalize on this emerging market. When deciding whether to get involved in this new industry, tribal governments have several considerations, including legal, cultural, economic, and public health and safety considerations. In other words, tribes need to answer the questions: Can we? Should we? And how? This latter question is usually neglected or neglected in the formulation of responses to these major policy concerns. However, public health is arguably the most important factor tribal governments should consider after deciding to get involved in the cannabis industry.
Tribal regulation of the local cannabis industry is the most important component in creating a safe and successful cannabis market in the Indian country. Solid political development and enforcement of cannabis regulations will further strengthen tribal leadership and tribal judicial structures while preserving public health and safety. Some examples of solid health policies related to cannabis legalization are: advertising and packaging restrictions; Prevention of driving under the influence of alcohol; Controls to prevent legal cannabis from being diverted to the black market, and; robust quality control and testing guidelines. Whether a tribal government chooses to create a wholly-owned cannabis industry or to allow member-owned companies to participate, proper regulation is critical to creating a cannabis market that will benefit the greatest number of tribal members while protecting tribal communities.
A legal cannabis market in an Indian country also has the potential to solve health problems that are of significant concern to tribal nations. Although federal restrictions have hampered medical cannabis research, the existing literature shows promise for the use of cannabis to reduce the use of prescription opioid drugs. A study published in 2014 found that states where medical marijuana was legal had opioid-related deaths decreased by nearly 25% compared to states where marijuana was not legal. Hence, from a harm reduction perspective, the potential of marijuana as a substitute for prescription opioid drugs is logically recognized.
On-site legalization will also generate much-needed revenue for essential government services. In 2019, national marijuana sales were over $ 10 billion, and in 2020 the cannabis market was estimated at $ 16 billion. Current estimates suggest that the marijuana industry will grow to $ 37 billion by 2024. In New York State, which recently legalized adult cannabis, the current cannabis market is estimated to have annual sales of $ 4.6 billion, including black market sales. The legal cannabis industry is expected to have sales of 1.2 billion by 2023. Given the unique benefits tribal governments enjoy from their sovereign status, the potential for tribal governments to generate massive profits is evident.
Despite the potential benefits of a well-regulated cannabis industry, marijuana remains a controlled substance that must be used responsibly. The most immediate concern of any tribal community is to protect the most vulnerable populations, that is, our children. The legalization of cannabis creates a potential for increased use of recreational marijuana in the early adult population, the effects of which are currently unknown. Hence, tribes should put in place strict regulations to mitigate some of the potential harm to tribal communities from legalizing cannabis.
With just a few examples of the pros and cons, it is easy to see that legalizing cannabis in Indian countries will produce both positive and negative results. The magnitude of the benefit or threat to our public health will become known over time as science improves our knowledge of its effects on our health and behavior. The harm to individuals and society is greatest in both unregulated illegal markets and unregulated legal markets. So, a solid tribal policy regarding the legalization of marijuana on the reservation must balance the need to generate income with the potential harm to the tribal community. In short, how cannabis is legalized and regulated will ultimately determine whether the strains’ public health is successfully protected.
The content of this article is intended to provide general guidance on the subject. Expert advice should be sought regarding your specific circumstances.
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