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Elizabeth Warren Cites Marijuana Advocacy In Response To Tribal Members’ Critical Letter

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In a letter sent late Tuesday to a group of Native Americans, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) pointed to marijuana reform as one of the many ways she’s worked to incorporate tribal interests into her campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Warren’s letter was a response to one sent to her by more than 200 members of the Cherokee Nation and other tribes who expressed dismay at her past statements that she had Native American heritage. They asked the senator to fully retract her those comments and address their consequences.

“Accountability is not just admitting you made a mistake, but working to correct the harm it caused,” they wrote. “As a Harvard professor and U.S. Senator, you have the unique opportunity to turn this controversy into a needed learning moment.”

In Warren’s 12-page response, first reported by the Los Angeles Times, she repeatedly acknowledged that “I am a white woman” and “it was wrong of me to have identified as a Native American.”

“Without qualification or excuse, I apologize for the harm I caused,” she wrote. “I have also been deliberate about incorporating tribal provisions into my campaign plans.”

One of those policy areas has to do with cannabis, she pointed out. Warren is the lead sponsor of the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, landmark legislation to protect state-legal marijuana programs from federal intervention.

In her new letter, Warren noted that she made sure to include provisions specifying that tribal nations can set their own marijuana policies.

“Another issue that I’ve been working hard on is ensuring that states and Tribal Nations alike can set their own policies for cannabis, without federal interference. The bipartisan STATES Act I introduced will lead the way to get the federal government out of the business of illegalizing cannabis,” she wrote. “I insisted that Tribal Nations be included in the STATES Act, because they should be able to enjoy the economic opportunities that cannabis provides if they want to.”

She also noted that the National Congress of American Indians “adopted a resolution in line with my bill.”

Last year, the senator included cannabis provisions in a plan focused on aiding tribal national and indigenous peoples.

The Cherokee letter that Warren was responding to stopped short of condemning her presidential campaign outright. Instead the authors framed the issue as an opportunity to correct her course. “You have done some good things for Indian Country during your time in political service,” it says. “You have also done real harm. Right now, you have the platform and the opportunity to stand firmly on the side of justice.”

Warren responded: “I know this kind of engagement only happens with people you expect more from, and I am grateful to be one of those people. Please continue to expect more from me, and I will dedicate myself to living up to it.”

Her letter also notes that she “made sure to include Tribal Nations in the cannabis plan my campaign recently unveiled.”

This past weekend, Warren released a marijuana-focused plan that includes policies aimed at righting the wrongs of the drug war and promoting involvement in the legal cannabis industry by communities harmed most by prohibition. She is pledging to push Congress to legalize marijuana and, if that doesn’t happen, to deschedule it through an executive order. The plan also includes expunging past cannabis convictions.

With regard to tribal nations, Warren’s plan says she will “streamline and remove unnecessary administrative barriers that impede growth on Tribal lands, respect tribal jurisdictions over tribal businesses, and promote forward-looking efforts to ensure full access to new and emerging economic opportunities, including in the cannabis industry.”

Warren’s decision to include marijuana policy in her reply was a timely one. Last month the Cherokee Nation, the continent’s largest Native American tribe, announced that it had assembled a working group to explore how marijuana and hemp could benefit the tribe.

“I believe there are opportunities for Cherokee Nation, our businesses and our citizens to benefit from this emerging industry,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. Other tribal nations, including in Canada, have taken similar steps. In upstate New York, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe last year voted to approve a medical marijuana program and explore an adult-use marijuana program in the future. Meanwhile, nearly a dozen tribes in the United States have already seen their hemp plans approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Meanwhile, congressional efforts to allow tribal sovereignty around cannabis issues have seen mixed results. Last summer, the House of Representatives approved an annual spending bill amendment to protect tribal marijuana programs from federal interference, but the Senate did not follow suit and the language wasn’t included in the final enacted bill.

Meanwhile, the Tribal Marijuana Sovereignty Act, filed by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), would similarly protect tribes from federal intervention if they chose to legalize the drug. That measure has so far stalled in committee, however, and no action has been taken on it since its introduction.

Elizabeth Warren Has A New Plan For Legalizing Marijuana

Photo courtesy of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

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Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

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