Growing Forward: Tribal governments navigate legal cannabis

For years, as conversations and debates in Congress and state legislatures about legalizing cannabis took place, an often overlooked piece of the puzzle was what legalization meant for tribal governments. 

In most states that have legalized recreational-use cannabis, state governments have entered into agreements with sovereign nations, allowing tribes to set up their own cannabis programs. New Mexico recently signed on to two of those kinds of agreements, which allows both the Picuris and Pojoaque pueblos to grow and sell cannabis, which will presumably deter federal officials from intervening. 

Pojoaque Governor Janelle Roybal told Growing Forward, the collaborative cannabis podcast between NM Political Report and New Mexico PBS, that she and other tribal leaders were excited to sign the intergovernmental agreement with the state because it gives Pojoaque autonomy to regulate cannabis sales and see direct financial benefits. 

“For us, it gives us the opportunity under the agreement to have all regulatory authority for any dispensaries or even grow operations within our exterior boundaries, meaning they can’t get approved for a state license unless they get approval through our cannabis commission prior to that. So it allows us to have that extra protection for our tribe and our community,” Roybal said. 

Like many other tribal governments, Pojoaque’s physical boundaries are “checkerboarded,” meaning non-tribal land is surrounded by tribal land. Roybal said Pojoaque running its own independent cannabis program also allows the Pueblo to serve surrounding communities.  

“We are checkerboarded, so our library, our wellness center, our senior center, all those are open to the community, they’re not just for our tribal members,” Roybal said. “So when we expand or grow in any of our departments, it’s helping everyone in the area. So this is for not just our Pueblo, but for the whole community.”

Pojoaque’s Lt. Gov. Rafaela Sanchez said although the Pueblo’s cannabis program is not limited to those with a medical cannabis card, the primary focus of the program is holistic. 

“We really do look at it as a form of healing and wellness, and we want to bring that message across to the community, to the people,” Sanchez said.

NM signs intergovernmental cannabis agreements with two pueblos

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced on Friday “historic” intergovernmental agreements with two pueblos that will allow the sovereign nations to take part in the state’s newly established recreational-use cannabis industry. 

According to the governor’s office announcement, leaders of the Picuris and Pojoaque pueblos each signed an agreement with the state that will “support the pueblos taking part in the recreational cannabis industry, driving economic development and setting guidelines for the safe production and sale of cannabis while preventing federal enforcement on their tribal lands.”

While the use, possession and home-cultivation of adult-use cannabis became legal last year and sales are slated to begin next week, cannabis is still illegal on the federal level. But the Cannabis Regulation Act, which is the law that legalized recreational-use cannabis, includes a provision that allows the state and tribal governments to enter into agreements like the ones announced on Friday. According to the announcement, the agreements between the state and the two sovereign governments are different from those in other states like Nevada. 

“These agreements not only formalize pro-tribal policies, such as a state duty to consult and incorporate tribal concepts and policies related to cannabis, but also are the only [intergovernmental agreements] in the nation that provide for ongoing meetings and consultations between state and tribe,” the announcement read. 

The Picuris Pueblo had previously tried to set up its own medical cannabis program after New Mexico legalized medical cannabis use, but the federal government shut the program down. Since then, there have been a few unsuccessful attempts by state lawmakers to pass a law allowing tribal governments to start their own medical cannabis program. Picuris Governor Craig Quanchello, through the governor’s office announcement, praised the agreement for respecting the Pueblo’s sovereignty, while also allowing collaboration between the two governments.

Bill to support Indigenous women starting businesses passes committee

About 500 Native American women representing more than 50 tribes nationally have started their own businesses, say Indigenous women advocates. A bill to try to gather that kind of data locally passed the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee Monday. HB 262 sailed through committee with a unanimous vote of 7-0. Rep. Damon Ely, of Corrales, and Rep. Derrick Lente, of Sandia Pueblo, both Democrats, were absent. Rep. D. Wonda Johnson, of Rehoboth, and Rep. Georgene Lewis, of Albuquerque, also Democrats, sponsored the bill.

Committee gets first look at gaming compact

A legislative committee tasked with approving a gaming agreement between Native American tribes and New Mexico met for the first time on Tuesday. The Committee on Compacts heard from a representative of the governor’s office, and later asked questions, about the proposed gaming compact. The committee did not hear from the public or tribal officials but will at a future hearing. Jessica Hernandez, deputy chief-of-staff and general counsel for Gov. Susana Martinez, briefed the committee made up of Senators and Representatives about the proposed agreement between the state and five tribes. Some of the differences she highlighted were revenue sharing percentages and player credit lines.

Legislative tennis: How gaming compacts are made

The process of approving gaming compacts in New Mexico can be hard to understand. There is an interim legislative committee assigned to compacts, but it does not operate like traditional committees in the state legislature. Instead the Compact Negotiation Act outlines a process that can resemble legislative tennis. Gaming compacts are agreements between tribal and state governments regarding casino gaming. For New Mexico, gaming compacts outline rules, regulations and how much of a tribes net winnings are paid to the state.