Native American Tribes Approve Plan to Grow and Sell Marijuana in Oregon

Members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs have approved a plan to build a facility to grow marijuana on their reservation in central Oregon and to sell it at tribe-owned stores outside the reservation.

The tribes are among the first in the country to enter the marijuana-growing business, a year after a Department of Justice policy indicated tribes could grow and sell marijuana under the same guidelines as states that opt to legalize.

Tribal officials said more than 80 percent of tribal voters favored the proposal in the referendum, which was held Thursday.

Warm Springs’s plan is to build a 36,000-square-foot greenhouse to grow and process the cannabis. Officials expect the project will create more than 80 jobs. Annual net revenue from the three proposed tribe-owned retail shops would top $26 million, the officials estimated.

The tribes say they will enter into an agreement with state agencies to ensure that testing and other regulations are consistent with state law. Sales are set to start in winter 2016.

“Our main purpose is to create jobs on the reservation and produce revenue for the tribes,” said Don Sampson of the tribes’ economic development corporation. “We think we will have a model other tribes will look to as they investigate this business and industry.”

The proposal does not change the tribal law that bans marijuana possession on the reservation, which is about 90 miles southeast of Portland.

In November 2014, Oregon voters approved Measure 91, which legalized recreational marijuana. But legal sales are not expected to begin until 2016.

Many tribes have opposed legalization and marijuana sales because of the potential to compound alcohol and drug problems on reservations. Some tribes banned marijuana outright.

But at least a half-dozen tribes this year have legalized marijuana on their reservations or have pursued marijuana projects.