White Earth Hemp Narrative:

White Earth Hemp Narrative:


Winona LaDuke in White Earth’s Tribal hemp field

Mentioning cannabis on the White Earth reservation usually provides one of two different responses—either curiosity or loathing. Conversely, lack of truthful understanding on both ends promotes misused or incorrect facts. Therefore it is the goal of this article to fully inform readers about medical marijuana and hemp; including what the future holds for these cannabis forms on the White Earth Reservation.

Medical Marijuana

Marijuana, or cannabis, has played a historical role in medical treatment for thousands of years. Though its recreational use is still illegal in most of the United States, many states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. Minnesota became one of 23 states, along with the District of Columbia, to legalize medical marijuana in May of 2014.

Medical marijuana is a form of cannabis which is used to treat a variety of symptoms and diseases. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol—only one of scores of natural chemicals found in cannabis, is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects. When THC enters the body, it attaches to and stimulates cannabinoid receptors in the brain, acting much like the cannabinoid chemicals made naturally by the body. Cannabinoid receptors are concentrated in certain areas of the brain associated with thinking, memory, pleasure, coordination and time perception. THC attaches to these receptors and activates them, affecting a person’s memory, pleasure, movements, thinking, concentration, coordination, sensory and time perception. The stimulation of these receptors affects the body in various ways; and may reduce pain and increase appetite as well as altering perception and thought.

Researchers continue to study the benefits of marijuana for medical purposes. Marijuana is often linked to treating:

  • Pain: Because of its effect on the central nervous system, cannabis may reduce chronic pain in some people. According to the California Medical Association, marijuana seems to be most effective when treating chronic neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain is pain from nerve injury or disease.
  • Nausea: marijuana may reduce nausea and stimulate appetite in some people.
  • Muscle spasms: According to the Mayo Clinic, early studies show that marijuana may help reduce muscle spasms associated with certain conditions.

Legalize Medical Marijuana

Recently, a U.S. federal memo was released stating Indian tribes could legalize the cultivation or sale of cannabis under tribal law for medicinal purpose. The memorandum entitled “Policy Statement Regarding Marijuana Issues in Indian Country” was released by the U.S. Department of Justice in December of 2014 and it implied that the 566 federally recognized American Indian tribes could begin to develop and sell their own medicinal marijuana. However, this new policy statement does not authorize tribal legalization of recreational marijuana use, possession, cultivation or sale.

In order to start the process of responsibly developing White Earth Nation medical marijuana, the White Earth Reservation Tribal Council recently voted to work towards legalizing medical marijuana on the reservation, following the strict standards put in place by the U.S. government.

Cole Memorandum

In response to this new capability, the “Cole Memorandum” was enacted by the U.S. Attorney General to form a policy statement concerning the enforcement of federally controlled substances. The “Cole Memorandum” declares eight priorities law enforcement should take in relation to marijuana and stresses the importance of state and local law enforcement and regulations:

  1. Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors
  2. Preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels;
  3. Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other areas;
  4. Preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or illegal activity;
  5. Preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana;
  6. Preventing drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health and safety consequences associated with marijuana use
  7. Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands; and
  8. Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.

Medical Marijuana and White Earth Nation

While the Cole Memorandum may give insight for law enforcement, there are still some uncertain aspects in regard to tribal selling or producing medical marijuana. To gain knowledge about cannabis for the benefit of the tribe, a cannabis committee was formed to research different medical marijuana failures and successes and to provide recommendations to Tribal Council. The committee made recommendations, one of which was to form the Alternative Medicine Commission (AMC).

White Earth Reservation will continue to educate itself and learn from previous mistakes made by tribal and non-tribal entities. Additionally, the state of Illinois system will also be studied, as their medical marijuana system is seen as the best candidate in regard to a solid definition and development of a responsible medical marijuana program.

Implementation of Medical Marijuana

Once all aspects of legalized medical marijuana have been explored and proved beneficial, implementation will occur in several phases. The AMC will be in charge of creation and implementation of phase 1. The first phase consists of various parts including continued legal advice, transparency for tribal members and U.S. government, and the beginning of building a sustainable method of medical marijuana treatment.


Hemp, a different strain of cannabis in the plant family, has rich history within the Ojibwe culture. Over the decades hemp has become misunderstood and put in the same THC family as marijuana; creating fear and negative, drug-related thoughts about hemp. One of the main differences between hemp and marijuana are the THC levels.

Marijuana involves cannabis flowers that contain 5-10 percent or more of THC (which is responsible for the “high” effect), whereas hemp only contains 1 percent or less of THC by weight (which makes it impossible to get a significant psychoactive effect with “home-brew” processing methods). This means the hemp plant was bred specifically for its fiber content and, outside a professional-level chemistry laboratory, one can’t get a significant psychoactive effect from hemp.

Beyond being a fibrous plant, hemp can be used for a variety of things including, but not limited to:

  • Medical: CBD, cannabidiol, (a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant) has been shown in studies to help aid arthritis, lymph node troubles and other health problems.
  • Nutrition: hemp seeds are rich in minerals and can provide 73 percent of a person’s daily value of protein.
  • Clothing and materials: hemp has incredible textile strength, creating a great thread for clothing, strings, concrete-like blocks, rope and other necessary material.

Legalizing Hemp

With the recent legalization of medical marijuana, there was another provision passed in Minnesota entitled “The Industrial Hemp Development Act.” This act aids in providing development and regulation of an industrial hemp production industry, while also defining certain terms, authorizing hemp research and more. Moreover, hemp will eventually be regarded and characterized as an “agricultural crop.”

Hemp and White Earth Nation

To further investigate these properties of hemp, the original cannabis committee made another recommendation to Tribal Council to create the Hemp Advisory Commission (HAC). HAC will be used to determine the feasibility of hemp being grown on White Earth Reservation.

Furthermore, continuing to educate itself, White Earth Reservation will study prior tribal and non-tribal hemp growing attempts through HAC. This development will help before the implementation process of the pilot studies begins.

Implementation of Hemp

Once proper research has been conducted by HAC, phases 1 of producing hemp will begin. Within phase 1, there will be multiple steps starting with the paperwork for a DEA pilot study on hemp. To do this, the reservation will need to become an official regulatory agency which will obtain hemp seeds from a federally recognized hemp seed bank. Eventually HAC plans to establish a Pilot Study Program partnership with White Earth Tribal and Community College under an educational and culturally-based study program.

The sole purpose of the Hemp Pilot Study is to “begin research to determine the feasibility of hemp and to understand its qualitative properties, as well as regaining a direct link to our cultural identity and heritage.”

Cannabis on White Earth Reservation

Eventually, when made available on the reservation, cannabis will only be offered to those who are from a federally recognized tribe, residing within the exterior boundaries of the White Earth Reservation and need it for approved and authorized medical purposes. Additionally, there will be no private or unofficial cannabis grown on the reservation.

Overall, it is the goal of the reservation to create a promising future for generations to come, and with that, to create a safer, healthier, medically alternative, self-supporting natural treatment environment.



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