The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal (CSKT) Council's decision this month to ban medical marijuana on the Flathead Indian Reservation has caregivers sorting through a legal haze.
"Smart caregivers are trying to figure out what the legal nuances are," says Tom Daubert, founder and director of Patients and Families United, a statewide support group for patients who use medical marijuana.
The ban only applies to tribal members and recognized American Indians from other tribes within reservation confines. Once tribal members leave reservation lands, state law applies. That leaves indigenous medical marijuana patients with a legal window.
At least three members of Daubert's caregiving organization, Montana Cannabis, live on the reservation, and he's consulting with an attorney to discern if caregivers can legally supply medical marijuana to tribal members outside reservation boundaries.
CSKT spokesman Rob McDonald says caregivers on tribal land providing the drug to tribal members will be subject to criminal prosecution. But once American Indians leave reservation confines CSKT jurisdiction ends. Therefore, if, for instance, an enrolled tribal member with a medical marijuana card purchased the drug in Missoula and used it there, they'd be in the clear.
"I think it's 100 percent legal," McDonald says.
Tribal officials say CSKT banned the drug because Montana's medical marijuana law makes it just too tough to monitor cannabis use on the reservation.
"Anybody in a sense can be a provider," says CSKT Police Chief Craige Couture of the state law's language allowing people who aren't trained in prescribing drugs to grow and distribute marijuana. "That's kind of scary to me...It's like, 'Whoa, hold on here. We have no controls.'"
The ban also aims to curb drug tourism. Too often, Couture says, unsavory people come to the Flathead Reservation from other areas to purchase marijuana. To deter that and other unintended consequences that come with legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, he says tribal officials felt compelled to keep it illegal.
"We're not looking to be mean to people," Couture says.