In today’s special session, Oct. 1, the Colville Business Council vote to approve an amendment of the Colville Tribal Code that legalizes small amounts of marijuana on the reservation, a change intended to match Washington State’s current law.

CBC discussed the amendment in Law and Justice Committee, Sept. 23, voting to move a recommendation forward for the final vote.

Previously, the proposed amendment had been published for a 90-day comment period before CBC opted to put forth a referendum vote to the tribal membership. The vote passed by a measure of approximately 55 percent voting yes and 45 percent voting no.

But on Aug. 12, CBC voted by consensus to table the code amendment following a discussion with Office of Reservation Attorney’s Michael Humiston, who spoke about a federal bill that would “disqualify any tribe from receiving federal funds and would require them to repay federal funds during any time that they were allowing [grow and sale] operations to go on on the reservation.”

Sept. 23, Humiston again came to council to report the bill, proposed by Senator James Langford, R-Oklahoma, has seen little action since it’s introduction in August.

“Just so I’m clear,” said Billy Nicholson, Nespelem District representative, “Yes or no, will the amendment that our membership voted on affect federal funding if this legislation passes?”

“No, it would not,” said Humiston.

“Ok, so no, it would not have an effect.”

“The only thing I’ve come here to say that is different than August 12 is to notify council on the progress of that bill,” said Humiston. “There has been time for the senate to act or not act. They’ve picked no action whatsoever.”

“The point is, we could right now legalize possession, and it would have no effect even if this bill would pass,” continued Humiston.

“We would come right up to the edge of what the bill covers but wouldn’t cross it,” said Humiston.

According to Humiston, 15 percent of federal bills get out of committee and only 3 percent of those get passed.

“Looking at the mechanics, this bill has a less than 50 percent chance of getting out of committee and only a 19 percent chance of being passed,” said Humiston. “The chance of this bill passing is not very good.”

“I don’t want to go against our membership,” said Nicholson, before the final CBC vote. “I hope that we can do the code amendment as soon as we can. We put it out to vote, and now we aren’t following what our membership voted.”

The amendment legalizes possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. An effective date was not released concerning the legalization.

Sept. 23, a number of CBC members expressed concern, including Nancy Johnson, Nespelem District representative, who asked about penalties to youth under 21 found in possession. According to Johnson, in Washington, the penalty on that demographic was increased to a felony with legalization of recreational marijuana across the state.

 “The whole discussion around this all along is that our first priority is to protect the tribe,” said Nancy Johnson, Nespelem District CBC representative. “It was a very close vote that I recall.”

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