Ho-Chunk Nation Takes Step Towards Cannabis Decriminalization

The Ho-Chunk Nation, a federally recognized tribe primarily located in the Great Lakes region, recently declared its decision to decriminalize cannabis, marking a significant shift in its approach to marijuana.

In a statement quoted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the tribe expressed recognition of the natural properties and historical uses of cannabis by indigenous communities for various purposes. This move was hailed as a historic moment by Rob Pero, founder of the Indigenous Cannabis Industry Association, who praised the Ho-Chunk Nation for prioritizing accessibility to plant medicine and fostering sustainable economic opportunities.

Pero highlighted the importance of tribal autonomy in navigating the complexities of cannabis policies at local, tribal, state, and federal levels, envisioning increased tribal engagement across the cannabis supply chain.

Although the announcement signifies the decriminalization of cannabis on tribal lands and a commitment by Ho-Chunk police not to issue citations for possession, it does not equate to full legalization. Wisconsin Public Radio clarified that cannabis remains illegal under tribal law, and individuals could still face citations from county or state police, particularly under the jurisdiction of Public Law 280, which applies to most federally recognized tribes in Wisconsin.

This legal landscape poses challenges for establishing cannabis businesses on tribal lands, potentially hindering economic opportunities and deterring customers who may seek legal cannabis products in neighboring states.

The Ho-Chunk Nation’s legislative structure, comprising executive, legislative, judicial, and general council branches, underscores its commitment to governance and decision-making processes. While Wisconsin grapples with marijuana prohibition, failing to pass comprehensive reform measures, neighboring Illinois reaps significant tax revenue from legal cannabis sales, highlighting the economic potential for Wisconsin if it were to legalize cannabis.

Despite the legal uncertainties, Ho-Chunk Nation leaders expressed anticipation of venturing into the cannabis industry once state legalization occurs. However, tribal law experts caution that federal restrictions on cannabis sales on trust reservation land may present formidable obstacles, underscoring the need for federal policy reforms to facilitate tribal cannabis businesses.


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