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Cannabis Quest

NICC helps Tribes make informed decisions about cannabis, hemp industries

Growing cannabis and hemp are potentially lucrative tribal endeavors, but the field is full of red tape and legal landmines. That’s where Jeff Doctor (Seneca) comes in.

Doctor is executive director of the National Indian Cannabis Coalition (NICC), which helps guide Tribal entities through the challenges of entering the medical and recreational cannabis markets. NICC is also promoting efforts to turn hemp, which has negligible THC, into a commercial crop that could be used for a wide variety of industrial purposes.

Like the financial services industry, cannabis is seen as a potential economic boon to tribes who are not geographically situated to benefit from lucrative gaming operations.

Forbes estimated that cannabis was a $7.1 billion industry in 2016, but could hit $22 billion in 2020. United States citizens are increasingly backing the field with 29 states having legalized medical or recreational cannabis. President Donald Trump appears open to allowing medical marijuana use, but there are questions about whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions will crack down on recreational use.

Doctor cofounded NICC in 2015 with his wife, Allyson Doctor (Mohawk). Another key team member is general counsel Lael Echo-Hawk (Pawnee).

Doctor, with Allyson and Echo-Hawk adding a few comments, talked with TBJ about how NICC can help Indian Country succeed in the cannabis and hemp fields.

When did you get interested in the field of
cannabis and hemp?

Jeff Doctor: I started following the industry in 2012. I started to see some states coming on line with medical programs. We put together a company to compete for state licenses. We formed our company (FirstWaves Wellness), and we went after state licenses in Illinois, Nevada and New York. We obtained a license in Nevada, in collaboration with a larger team, but that license was never executed.

Allyson Doctor: Every state has created their own rules and regulations. Fitting in with those parameters was a challenge. It allowed us to be able to bring that experience to help educate Indian Country about what’s required.

Jeff Doctor: When the Wilkinson and Cole memos came out at the end of 2014 it sparked the idea of what we could do for Indian Country to get into the cannabis industry. There is a rigorous, very demanding process in the states. We wanted to bring our knowledge and experience and help guide people through the hurdles.

What are your business strategy and financial model like currently and how do you expect it to evolve?

Jeff Doctor: We have self-funded this because we believe in this industry and in advocating for the right for tribes to have the same rights as states to enter the industry. It is membership based, and we have industry affiliates.

Whatís been the spectrum of reaction in Indian Country to business opportunities in cannabis and hemp?

Jeff Doctor: There was serious interest in the opportunity, which was met with serious concern about risk. We based our mission off education, advocacy and, ultimately, navigation of how to begin investing in the cannabis industry.

When it comes to doing business in Indian Country, it’s a community-based effort. It has to be done in a way that’s respectful to the community. We are doing tribal community meetings and education that places the people directly impacted in a position of understanding the difference between marijuana and hemp, THC and CBD, federal versus state regulation consideration. All of these things that are absolutely critical when beginning to approach regulation of cannabis on Indian land.

What has been the impact for Indian Country of the Justice Department issuing the Wilkinson memo, which provided guidance to U.S. attorneys for marijuana regulation on tribal lands?

Jeff Doctor: Those eight bullet points in the memo left open a lot of interpretation with tribes. It’s also easy enough for the new attorney general to say, “It’s just a memo,” and rescind it. It just gives uncertainty to where tribes fit in this space.

In the two years since the memo was issued, only two tribes have opened retail dispensaries and one tribe has opened a marijuana testing lab. Other tribes attempting to enter the industry faced state and federal opposition, enforcement action or significant banking issues that prevented development.

EchoHawk: The only thing that is clear in this murky industry, is that tribes located in states without any form of cannabis legalization are going to have to wait until their state legalizes cannabis before they can consider entering the industry.

Attorney General Sessions seems to be a wild card when it comes to law enforcement and cannabis. What are your thoughts?

Echo-Hawk: We just don’t know what his position is going to be. There was a [recent] article, where he said they were going to be enforcing marijuana law in an “appropriate way.”

No one knows what that is, but he is going to be enforcing marijuana laws differently than under the Obama administration.

What we have been telling tribes now is to use caution: Don’t put a lot of investment in this industry until we know what’s going to happen. Stay in close contact with your states and district attorney.

It looks like the tribes in Washington state did a good job of working with state officials. I see two dispensaries have opened near Poulsbo.

Jeff Doctor: After the state legalized recreational marijuana, the tribes worked collaboratively with the Washington state legislature and governor to create a legal and regulatory scheme that allows both tribal and state participants to move in and out of the state’s regulated system. It’s all about economic development, job creation, and tribal sovereignty.

What about your efforts on new legislation?

Jeff Doctor: Any cannabis-related legislation needs to include language that carves out and recognizes the rights of tribes, particularly as it relates to the farm bill for canna-agriculture. NICC wants to ensure that Indian Country’s sovereign right to participate in the cannabis industry is protected just as it is for states.

We have been working on legislation regarding industrial hemp. We have been trying to work on the farm bill to get an amendment put in so it includes all federally recognized tribes.

Until changing laws in the United States began to regulate the growing of hemp, it had a long history of use, dating back to the days of English rule in Colonial America. George Washington wrote about growing hemp on his lands.

Hemp is used all over the world for cloth, food, paper and more—lots more. Hemp is a very sustainable and efficient crop: an acre of hemp produces more paper than an acre of trees. Most of the world still grows hemp, including Canada, England, Australia, France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Russia, India and more.

You had a recent meeting with a member of the congressional cannabis caucus. tell us about that.

Jeff Doctor: I had the opportunity to discuss the issues pertaining to Indian Country and the cannabis and industrial hemp industry with Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who is a member of the caucus.

The caucus is a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders that are working together to bridge the gap between federal laws and state regulations. Congressman Rohrabacher was the keynote speaker at the California Cannabis Expo, which was March 6 and 7 in San Diego.

I also spoke at the conference about the issues facing Indian Country and the cannabis industry as it relates to the new administration, their policies and the new attorney general’s statements about federal enforcement.

I reinforced the NICC’s view on industrial hemp as an agricultural and economic development opportunity for Indian Country. Congressman Rohrabacher expressed interest in learning more about the use of industrial hemp as a commodity that can be emphasized in policy as it relates to seeking parity for tribes.

We have an ally in Congressman Rohrabacher—he understands our mission.

How much of the work of NICC is focused on tribal businesses involving marijuana vs. industrial hemp?

Jeff Doctor: We focus on cannabis legislation at the federal level, however, there is much to consider regarding the state regulations when we are working with individual tribes. The 2013 federal farm bill allows for research on hemp in certain states. Some states have passed industrial hemp pilot project programs. Other states have zero regulatory structure in place, in which case our recommendation is not to proceed in any manner at this time.

For example, there is an industrial hemp pilot program in Kentucky and South Carolina. We have an opportunity to educate, collaborate and work with tribes to develop an industrial hemp operation. The estimated financial benefit of developing a hemp-based industry could be a true game-changer in Indian Country, which has access to large swaths of agricultural land.

tell us about the conference you are planning in washington, d.c., which tbj is sponsoring.

Jeff Doctor: We are in the planning stages. It’s called the NICC Cannabis Summit. We will have industry leaders to discuss the tribal cannabis industry from seed to sale. It will provide a forum for tribal leaders who are facing similar issues in their communities.

Cannabis Quest NICC helps Tribes make informed decisions about cannabis, hemp industries Growing cannabis and hemp are potentially lucrative tribal endeavors, but the field is full of red

National Indian Cannabis Coalition Says DOJ Challenge to Cannabis Event Could Have Been Avoided

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The National Indian Cannabis Coalition expressed concern with circumstances surrounding the High Times Cannabis Cup, held on tribal land outside of Las Vegas, NV scheduled the weekend of March 4th and 5th 2017.

Jeff Doctor, Executive Director of National Indian Cannabis Coalition

Tribal entities must be careful in choosing partners in the emerging legal cannabis industry

Washington, D.C. (PRWEB) March 03, 2017

The National Indian Cannabis Coalition (NICC), the only tribal advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring tribal entities have the opportunity to participate in the regulated cannabis and hemp markets, expressed concern with the circumstances surrounding the High Times Cannabis Cup. The event, scheduled to happen this weekend on Moapa Paiute tribal lands located outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, was the subject of a February 16 letter from U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden.

In his letter, Bogden stated that he was “informed that the tribal council is moving forward with the planned marijuana event… because it is under the impression that the so-called ‘Cole Memorandum’ and subsequent memoranda from the Department of Justice permit marijuana use, possession and distribution on tribal lands when the state law also permits it. Unfortunately, this is an incorrect interpretation of the Department’s position on this issue.”

Jeff Doctor, Executive Director of the NICC, said, “We believe the memos from the Department of Justice clearly allow tribes the right to leverage their tribal sovereignty to pursue economic development with legal cannabis. But those memos are not carte blanche for anyone to just dive into this industry without the proper steps. And while we salute the efforts of the Moapa Paiute Tribal Citizens, I’m not certain I can say the same for Cannabis Cup event partner Ultra Health and their leader Duke Rodriguez. There are those in the industry who will attempt to hide behind tribal sovereignty for financial gain—at the expense of the tribal partner.”

“It’s all about economic development, job creation, and tribal sovereignty,” said Doctor. “Look at Washington State. After the state legalized recreational marijuana, the tribes worked collaboratively with the Washington state legislature and Governor to create a legal and regulatory scheme that allows both tribal and state participants to move in and out of the state’s regulated system.”

Both industry operators and tribes must show diligence in evaluating potential endeavors, said Doctor. “Indian Country can be setting a great standard for the cannabis industry as it moves toward legalization,” he said, “just as it has done in gaming.”

The National Indian Cannabis Coalition believes that increased economic opportunity can only be achieved when all parties are working together.

“A partnership with a tribal entity can be a real benefit for industry,” said Doctor, “but it has never been more important to enter these agreements with extreme care.”

The ultimate outcome of this weekend’s Cannabis Cup remains unclear.

“Event promoters are saying the event will continue just as planned. We are hopeful that this means the tribe, the United States and the tribe’s partner have reached an agreement that continues to open doors for Indian Country,” said Doctor.

For more information, please contact:
Jeff Doctor (jdoctor(at)niccunited(dot)org)
Executive Director

National Indian Cannabis Coalition
819 7th Street, 4th Floor
Washington, DC 20001

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