On February 27, representatives from 75 Native American tribes from around the country gathered in Tulalip, Washington to discuss marijuana legalization.

After the Justice Department announced in December that it would allow the nation’s Native American Tribes to legalize and regulate marijuana on their reservations, as they already do with gambling, some tribes expressed reluctance and even opposition to it, given the substance abuse problems that many reservations struggle with. But it seems like increasingly more Tribal members are becoming open to the idea of marijuana legalization, at least in some respects.

From both an economic and medical standpoint, tribes stand to benefit, and even see medicinal marijuana as a potential means of treating the very same methamphetamine and prescription drug abuse among Tribal members that initially had many concerned.

The economic potential is equally significant. According to the Associated Press, Tulalip Vice Chairman Les Parks called it “a dream of another point of self-sufficiency on our reservations.”

The Tribes have the autonomy to decide if they want to approve marijuana for medical or even recreational use, but there are some complications involved. Tribes must follow the same state law enforcement policies as those states that have already legalized marijuana, but there are also 17 states that have criminal jurisdiction over Tribal lands, some of which prohibit marijuana – meaning Tribal members could face criminal prosecution for trying to regulate or legalize marijuana in these states, as could non-Indian visitors who purchase marijuana on the reservation but would face legal repercussions the second they step foot outside of it. Thus, it behooves many tribes to keep their marijuana regulation laws in step with state marijuana laws.

Marijuana regulation and legalization will be a hot topic of discussion next month at the National Canter for American Indian Enterprise Development’s National RES (Reservation Economic Summit) being held in Las Vegas March 9-12

According to the session description, the discussion will specifically look at legal issues and potential for economic impact for the tribes: “…the DOJ’s move effectively legalizes marijuana in portions of states where the drug remains otherwise outlawed. What’s more, Tribes that opt to sell marijuana grown on reservations will not be subject to state and local taxes, giving them a potentially lucrative business opportunity. In states like Colorado, steep taxes on marijuana sales help fund the public school system, inflating the cost for customers.” This session will delve into what all of this could mean for Tribes and Tribal business development.

The state of Nevada is home to some 28 Tribes, one of which – the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe – is located within the city limits of Las Vegas. Since Nevada has already legalized marijuana for medical use and has otherwise decriminalized it, the Paiute Tribe could economically benefit from sales to local medicinal marijuana users as well as recreational use tourists, an industry with enormous untapped potential in a city with over 40 million visitors annually and the most-visited tourist attraction in the world.