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Ho-Chunk Nation decriminalizes marijuana

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The Ho-Chunk Nation  Legislature announced in a press release Tuesday that it had amended tribal laws to take marijuana off its list of substances prohibited on tribal lands. 

“Millions of dollars leave the state of Wisconsin every day because its citizens pursue marijuana from the surrounding states that have legalized  marijuana in some form,” the press release, issued by Legislative Attorney Martie Simmons, reads. “The Ho-Chunk Nation anticipates entering the cannabis industry, once legalized in Wisconsin. This goal aligns with the promise to its member  citizens to pursue economic diversification. The Ho-Chunk Nation recognizes that marijuana and its derivatives are natural  growth plants with medicinal and industrial applications. Indigenous people have used  marijuana and hemp for hundreds of years for a variety of purposes, and the Ho Chunk Nation acknowledges its functional purpose.”

Marijuana remains illegal on the federal and state level, and state and local authorities may still issue citations for possession or sale of marijuana, even on tribal lands. However, the Ho-Chunk police department will not issue any such citations, according to the press release.

District II Representative Kristin WhiteEagle said she based her vote on tribal sovereignty and its medicinal value.

“This was a decision made based on tribal sovereignty,” she said.  “As leaders, we have a duty to focus on ways that will protect our people. Across the  country, we have seen the benefits of cannabis. It’s time to move towards an end to this prohibition.”  

The change comes as the federal government moved to change marijuana’s classification from Schedule I to Schedule III, marking it as a less dangerous drug. 

Other Indigenous leaders have expressed an interest in leveraging Indigenous sovereignty to move into the cannabis industry and raise money to support Indigenous nations’ citizens. The Indigenous Cannabis Industry Association was founded in 2022 in Wisconsin. 

State legislators have introduced two competing bills to legalize some uses of marijuana in Wisconsin.