Federal agents raided a large marijuana grow facility on Native American tribal land in July, despite a recent ruling that allows tribes to legalize the drug.
Agents with the DEA and the Bureau of Indian Affairs seized more than 12,000 cannabis plants and more than 100 pounds of processed weed from the Alturas Indian Rancheria and the XL Ranch in Modoc County, Cal., both Indian reservations.
There were no arrests and no charges were filed. Federal officials said the cultivation site, located on federally recognized reservation land, violated the terms of a 2014 ruling by the Obama administration under which tribes may grow marijuana, sell it, and possess it legally – but only on tribal land.
Authorities say the pot farm was large enough to supply a major commercial network, including distribution points off-reservation. Tribal leaders acknowledged the weed was intended for other locations, though they didn’t say where or whether it would involve non-tribal land.
Large scale operation
Agents said the farm was capable of growing more than 60,000 marijuana plants, far more than tribe members or reservation guests could use. The grow was housed in the reservation’s former Event Center, roughly 100 yards from the Desert Rose Casino.
The raid resulted from a federal investigation into the tribe’s cannabis plans. As a federally recognized reservation, the land is subject to federal law, including anti-drug statutes.
But President Barack Obama announced last year that reservations were free of federal pot laws. That means they may build retail cannabis businesses, as long as the marijuana doesn’t leave tribal lands.
“Our question is, who are they growing it for?” said Rory Flick, owner of a nearby motel. “You’re talking about thousands of pounds of marijuana. We don’t want that kind of traffic here. It brings criminal activity.”
Intended marijuana recipients remains unknown
That claim isn’t backed by fact, but agents said the farm was breaking the law, since the product it produced was intended for points unknown. Federal agencies typically don’t comment on ongoing investigations, but authorities said they needed to clarify the reason for targeting the reservation.
“Exceptions are sometimes made when a matter has received substantial publicity and there is a need to inform the community regarding law enforcement actions taken in furtherance of particular public interests,” the U.S. attorney for Northern California said in a statement. “The marijuana grows in question have received substantial attention in Modoc County, as has the U.S. Department of Justice’s guidance related to marijuana cultivation on tribal lands.”
The new policy on tribal legalization has already spurred another tribe to legalize the drug. The Flandreau Sioux, who live near the town of Flandreau, S.D., voted in June to grow pot and open a commercial pot dispensary where locals and visitors could buy small amounts of the drug for personal use.
The raid in Modoc County was carried out after agents obtained search warrants for the tribal property. Although American Indian tribes are semi-sovereign and don’t answer to state or local governments, they still must obey many federal laws.
Agents said they seized plants and weed but nothing else. No charges are planned, they said.
“Other than contraband marijuana and items of evidentiary value, no tribal property was seized, and no federal charges are pending,” the U.S. attorney said.