The Eastern Shoshone Tribe could soon take steps to launch its own cannabis business on the Wind River Reservation. The tribe's General Council, a governing body composed of all tribal members over the age of 18, will take up the issue during a meeting on Saturday, March 14.
Several tribal members have been researching the issue since September. That group - called So-go-Beah Naht-Su', Shoshone for Mother Earth's Medicine - has been looking at potential business opportunities within the industrial hemp industry, and at the possibility of legalizing medical marijuana use and production on the reservation.
Bobbi Shongutsie, who heads up So-go-Beah Naht-Su', planned an informational event in Fort Washakie on Friday to share what the group has learned with other tribal members.
"I think it went really well. I heard a lot of people asking questions, a lot of good interaction," Shongutsie said, adding that her grandmother was one of several elders in attendance. "She was really outspoken and asking a lot of questions, and I'm glad because she'll go back and tell her sisters. And hopefully they'll support us."
Shongutsie and other supporters of the initiative hope that a tribally-run cannabis business could bring jobs to the reservation, where tribal leaders say the unemployment rate is higher than 50 percent. They also believe that legalizing medical marijuana use could curb a crisis of opioid and methamphetamine abuse.
The group knows that not all tribal members are convinced, though. Shongutsie said that some who are on board with hemp production or processing, which is legal federally and in the state of Wyoming, are uneasy about getting involved with medical marijuana.
Eastern Shoshone Business Councilman John St. Clair, a former Chief Judge of the Wind River Tribal Court, falls into the latter camp.
"I believe there's a stigma to [marijuana production], and in this first stage of looking at this issue, I'm more interested in the legal side, which is the hemp," St. Clair said after attending Friday's informational event.
While marijuana remains illegal in Wyoming and on the federal level, the United States Department of Justice signaled in 2014 that tribal nations would get the same treatment as states in terms of marijuana enforcement. That means federal authorities are unlikely to interfere with any changes to tribal cannabis law.
However, St. Clair added that amending the Shoshone and Arapaho Law and Order Code to legalize medical marijuana would require the approval of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, whose General Council was set to vote on the issue during its December meeting but did not make the required quorum.
Ahead of Saturday's meeting, where the Eastern Shoshone General Council will vote on whether to launch a cannabis business and hire an attorney to help facilitate it, Shongutsie said she hopes tribal members will consider the potential economic benefits.
"[The Eastern Shoshone Tribe] needs revenue. Our reservation, to me, is failing economically because there aren't jobs for our people. There are jobs out there in Riverton or Lander, maybe, but we want to bring something for the reservation itself," Shongutsie said.
So-go-Beah Naht-Su' held another informational event at the Lander Library on Saturday, and is in the process of planning events in Riverton this week.
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