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‘The tribe has taken over’: the Native Americans running Las Vegas’ only cannabis lounge

Nevada law restricts marijuana consumption to private residences until 2021, but sovereignty exempts the Las Vegas Paiute

A couple seated at a high top table smoked a joint, while six tourists in a circular booth nearby drank THC-infused beer and reviewed the flower menu. It was the morning of the Southern Paiutes traditional hunt, when tribal youth learn to shoot and harvest mule deer as adult providers, but Benny Tso, 43, was stuck in the Las Vegas Paiutes new cannabis tasting room, taking meetings and making calls.

The Tudinu, or desert people, from whom the Las Vegas Paiute descend, have lived in southern Nevada for more than 1,000 years, spending summers in the mountains and winters by a valley spring until the area was taken over by white settlers. They worked as ranch hands for several decades, and in 1970, the Las Vegas Paiutes became recognized as a sovereign nation, after which they launched several businesses.

In 2017, they opened the NuWu Cannabis Marketplace, a glass-walled, big box structure that half resembles a car dealership.NuWu which means the people in Southern Paiute sits on the tribes colony one mile away from the neon-lit Fremont Street Experience.

Last month, NuWu became the go-to dispensary for many in Las Vegas, and not just because its the only one with a drive-thru window. NuWu opened Nevadas first cannabis tasting room in October. Sovereignty exempts them from a law that restricts marijuana consumption to private residences until 1 July 2021.

On that date, Sin City will no doubt host the kitschiest, most glammed-out cannabis party scene in the world. A dispensary with galactic scale, Planet 13, already has a restaurant and caf space inside its 112,000-sq-ft marijuana superstore near the Las Vegas Strip. But for the next 21 months, this 55-member Southern Paiute band has the pot lounge business all to itself.

We laughed at first about it. Like, oh crap, were going to be weed dealers? said Tso, who served as the tribal council chair for over 10 years. After we got the jokes aside, we started digging into the numbers. It was just a different way to generate revenue for the tribe when we realized we needed to do something to put our people in better situations.

Within a year and half this is going to compete with our other businesses, Tso said of NuWu Cannabis Marketplace. I think weve prolonged our tribe by three to four more generations.

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Customers gather at the NUWU Tasting Room on Saturday 5 October 2019. Photograph: Jeff Scheid/The Guardian

He noted that federal assistance for healthcare, education and law enforcement services has dwindled since the recession. In fact, a 2018 report by the US Commission on Civil Rights titled Broken Promises called the funding status for Indian country grossly inadequate.

There are 560 some odd treaties between the US government and tribes, and none of them have been honored, Tso said. But with this business weve created, well balance out some of those shortfalls.

Located in a neighborhood with multiple cemeteries, tow yards and homeless shelters, the Southern Paiutes cannabis lounge is off the beaten path. But one afternoon last month, Jessica, a Las Vegas local, celebrated her 26th birthday by inhaling smoke from a dab rig that the bartender lit for her.

Dan, an accountant from Denver, ordered a bong hit. This would be a great place to bring my folks, he said. They love to come to Vegas and throw convention out the window.

Occasionally, NuWu has to cut people off. But overall the experiment has gone so well that two to three other Native American tribes visit each week to learn about the industry some are calling the new new buffalo, a reference to the term used for casinos when the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act passed in 1988.

In a city saturated with gambling, where even laundromats and grocery stores have slot machines, the Las Vegas Paiutes never saw the casino business as a viable economic driver. Their main revenue source since 1970 has been a tobacco store that sells tax-free cigarettes.

The Paiute in an interesting way took advantage of this community that grew around them, said Michael Green, a history professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. When you go to Las Vegas, you dont take care of yourself, and casino culture, for locals who worked there, had a similar impact. Youre working all day with people smoking, drinking, and sometimes making considerable money. That became hard to resist, and the Paiutes did well financially knowing there were plenty of smokers in this area.

The strength and ingenuity theyve used to survive centuries of marginalization has parallels to the Las Vegas Paiutes creation story, which states that their ancestors roamed the desert as ants until a great flood forced them to crawl up a mountain and ascend trees. When the water receded, they returned to the ground and became two legs human beings and an especially communal, hardworking sort.

We do get teased because were city Indians, but a majority of us know our culture and thats the point, said Tso, whose arms are covered in tattoos of traditional Paiute symbols and tools. His community may need NuWu to be that mountain they climb in the event of a perfect storm, since the tobacco shop revenue plateaued years ago, right as healthcare costs rose to levels unmet by federal support.

Another challenge they face is a corporate invasion.

MedMen and other companies listed on the Canadian Securities Exchange now operate cannabis dispensaries near the Las Vegas strip. According to Dayvid Figler, an attorney who practices cannabis law in Nevada, The old school Vegas people, the local cultivators, the mom and pops, etc, who were the sole people in the industry are either all gone or have changed their roles.

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A view of the welcome sign on the Las Vegas Strip. Photograph: Valery Sharifulin/TASS

From a business standpoint its a very volatile terrain, he added. Youre getting reports of $30m, $45m, $100m for the transfers of marijuana licenses from establishments within Nevada to these corporate entities that have ownership outside the state.

The potential for crony capitalism in the Nevada cannabis industry was highlighted last month with the revelation that associates of Rudy Giuliani arrested in Donald Trumps Ukraine imbroglio unsuccessfully tried to enter the Las Vegas cannabis market through max donations to Republican candidates for governor and attorney general.

The Las Vegas resorts, too, have a stake in the future of the cannabis industry. Acting as the ultimate power broker, the resorts killed a cannabis lounge licensing bill in the 2017 legislature arguing that any marijuana use drifting on to their properties might lead federal regulators to revoke their gaming licenses. This year, the resorts convinced the governor to impose a three-year moratorium on cannabis lounges, and the Las Vegas city council banned such businesses from operating within 1,000ft of any casino.

In reality, [the resorts] didnt want the competition. Theyre hoping in two years marijuana will go legal federally, and then they can bring it inside the hotels, said the former state senator Tick Segerblom, who wrote the failed cannabis lounge bill.

Having co-authored the agreement that allowed the Las Vegas Paiutes into Nevadas cannabis industry, Segerblom (the rare politician with a pot strain named after him), took solace in their success. The marijuana industry is dominated by white people, but along comes this tribe and just takes over. Of all the things Ive done, this is the one Im most excited about.

They have outdoor grows taking place in northern Nevada on reservations where hundreds of people havent had jobs in forever, he added. Its a true minority group thats been screwed over since Christopher Columbus, and its just fitting justice. I sleep well at night.

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Neil Young faces US citizenship delay over marijuana use

The Canadian songwriter is pursuing dual citizenship in order to vote my conscience on Donald J Trump in the 2020 election

Neil Young is facing a delay in his application for US citizenship after honestly answering a question about his marijuana use.

In a letter to fans posted on his website, the Canadian songwriter said that he passed the test for citizenship, but that he has been called to take another test due to my use of marijuana and how some people who smoke it have a problem.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services added a policy in April 2019, proposed by Jeff Sessions during his period as attorney general, which states: An applicant who is involved in certain marijuana related activities may lack GMC (Good Moral Character) if found to have violated federal law, even if such activity is not unlawful under applicable state of foreign laws.

Sessions has supported the repeal of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment so that the justice department could prosecute suppliers of medical marijuana, despite President Trumps support for its legalisation.

Young wrote: I sincerely hope I have exhibited good moral character and will be able to vote my conscience on Donald J Trump and his fellow American candidates, (as yet un-named).

Young is widely known as a figurehead of the Los Angeles 1960s-70s Laurel Canyon scene. In October, he told the LA Times: Im still a Canadian; theres nothing that can take that away from me. But I live down here; I pay taxes down here; my beautiful family is all down here theyre all Americans, so I want to register my opinion.

Young has been critical of Trumps presidency, refusing him permission to use his 1989 hit Rockin in the Free World at campaign events, and criticising his stance on the November 2018 California wild fires, in which Young lost his home.

He recently told AP: I hope that people vote him out and I hope theres somebody reasonable to put back in there when they get rid of him.

Colorado, Youngs latest album with band Crazy Horse, was released in October.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

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‘I’mnot convinced we will have fair elections in America’: Stacey Abrams’ fight against voter suppression

Abrams lost the race for Georgia governor, and she believes voter suppression played a central role so shes leading a nationwide voting rights campaign

One year ago, at an election night party in downtown Atlanta, Stacey Abrams took the stage and delivered a speech that could well have been made 60 years ago, when this city was known as the cradle of the civil rights movement.

Democracy only works when we work for it. When we fight for it. When we demand it, she said, the microphone peaking under the power of her voice. In a civilized nation, the machinery of democracy should work for everyone, everywhere. Not just in certain places. And not just on a certain day.

Abrams was then the Democratic candidate for Georgia governor, attempting to become the countrys first black female state executive.

The race captivated America not only for its potential to make history. It also dredged up the countrys darkest past. African Americans in the deep south were once disenfranchised with literacy tests and other racist laws, and in recent years a surge in restrictive voting legislation, including voter identification laws and sweeping electoral roll purges, has ushered in an era described by some as a neo-Jim Crow.

Abrams did not win that night. Her opponent, the Trump-endorsed Republican Brian Kemp, eventually edged to victory by a thin, 55,000-vote margin. Abrams believes that voter suppression played a central role, which has led her to her next chapter: she has announced that for the next year, she will lead a nationwide voting rights campaign.

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Her goal is to export lessons she learned fighting voter suppression in Georgia, and to mobilize a base of progressives and marginalized communities to help Democrats win the White House in 2020. While many had urged her to consider a run for the presidency herself, she believes the new mission may be a more formidable undertaking.

I am not convinced at all that we will have free and fair elections unless we work to make it so, she said in August, during the first of several conversations with the Guardian. In America, we have the theory of free and fair elections, but unfortunately weve seen, particularly over the last 20 years, an erosion of the ability to access that right.

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‘Trump relies on voter suppression’: Stacey Abrams on her fight for voting rights video

The turning point came in a 2013 supreme court ruling that gutted the civil rights movements crowning achievement, the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The ruling paved the way for a raft of state laws that have made voting harder across the country.

The vote is the most powerful nonviolent instrument of transformation we have in our democracy, said the Georgia civil rights veteran and US congressman John Lewis last year. There are forces trying to make it harder and more difficult for people to participate. And we must drown out these forces.

This is why today, the Guardian is launching The Fight to Vote, a series that will investigate why it is so hard for growing numbers of Americans to cast a ballot. In the run-up to the 2020 election, it will scrutinize compromised electoral systems, give a platform to voices silenced at the polls, and reveal how voter suppression is already shaping the 2020 election.

We are in a different era of voter suppression, Abrams says. But unfortunately it is a continued lineage of voter suppression that began with the inception of our country.

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Stacey Abrams meets Georgia voters in Metter, Monday November 5, 2018. Photograph: Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty Images

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We first meet on a bright and humid summers afternoon in an upmarket Atlanta suburb a few blocks from the headquarters of her new national voting rights campaign, Fair Fight 2020.

The campaign is now in its infancy, but aims to create a vast voter protection drive across the country, supporting teams in 20 battleground states to aid with registration and boost turnout among minority groups next year.

In September she appeared on stage at a concert with the pop artist Lizzo in New York, delivering a rousing speech urging young attendees to become part of the campaign. This was part of a broader goal of engaging younger communities of color by pushing the voting rights struggle into popular culture.

Every one of you is responsible for finding a rule that is wrong, she told the crowd. I want you to break that rule and write a new one.

Abrams sees this work, and her gubernatorial election last year, as the continuation of a struggle that has spanned generations. We believe in the right to vote, but, from the very beginning, communities have been distanced from it, she says.

Communities like her own. Born in the small, coastal city of Gulfport, at the southern tip of Mississippi, Abrams and her five siblings were taught about the critical importance of voting from a young age. Her parents, both Methodist ministers, were involved in the civil rights movement as teenagers her father was arrested for assisting voter registration in black communities while still in high school.

My parents took us with them when they voted, she says. They talked about why politics mattered. They made certain we watched the news and asked questions, because they wanted us to understand that our engagement, our ability to shape our communities, was directly tied to our votes, and they were very clear that they expected us to be voters.

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Stacey Abrams in Atlanta on 27 August 2019. Photograph: Peyton Fulford/The Guardian

The voting rights struggle has shifted significantly since her parents days. While voter suppression laws in various states no longer explicitly target particular groups, the method is more insidious, using carefully constructed policy to make it harder to register, to cast a vote and to have a ballot counted. It has fundamentally changed the electoral landscape in the United States.

Abrams home state of Georgia is an incubator for these new suppression tactics, and Kemp, her opponent last year, is a primary instigator. Beginning in 2010, he served as Georgias secretary of state, overseeing voting and elections, and controversially declined to step down from the post while he ran for governor, meaning he effectively oversaw his own election.

Since the landmark supreme court decision, which allowed states to impose new voting laws without federal approval, Georgia has enacted a swath of voter suppression laws, from rapidly purging the voter rolls of those deemed inactive, to the closure of hundreds of polling places, often in poorer black neighbourhoods. It introduced a new law terminating voter registration four weeks before the 2018 election day, preventing an estimated 87,000 people from voting.

The state also introduced a controversial exact match law requiring that details on new voter applications match precisely with government-issued documents meaning an errant hyphen or a changed married name can block the registration process. This system proved contentious last year after 53,000 applications mostly from African Americans were revealed to have stalled less than a month before election day.

We saw an implementation of almost every possible iteration of voter suppression, Abrams says. Yes, we became an incubator, but we also became a singularity where almost every one of those pieces [of suppression] was implemented by the person who would go on to become governor of the state.

Abrams accepts she cannot prove empirically that these policies altered the election outcome. But she also refuses to rule it out, and she has not formally conceded the election, a move Kemps campaign branded a disgrace to democracy. It is a slur she shrugs off as hypocritical posturing. Kemp, privately educated and wealthy, is to her a representative of the sort of conservative, white patriarchal power she has spent much of her career fighting against.

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Attendees look at a laptop computer during an election night watch party for Stacey Abrams in Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday, November 6th 2018. Photograph: Kevin D. Liles/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Brian Kemp is emblematic of what is happening across this country, which is that a community that has enjoyed a certain hegemony finds their control of power weakening, she says.

Critics have leveled the same charge at Donald Trump, who himself has spent much of his presidency casting false and inflammatory allegations of widespread illegal voting, the central justification for many voter suppression laws across the country. The president even appeared with Kemp during the 2018 campaign and reiterated a number of the conservative attacks on Abrams: that she had encouraged undocumented migrants to vote, would support widespread firearms confiscation, and was at the helm of a radical agenda across other areas of public life.

Nonetheless Abrams success at mobilizing a progressive base means that many observers now see Georgia, a Democratic stronghold until the late 90s, as a swing state once again.

She galvanized the most Democratic voters weve ever seen in Georgia, says Tharon Johnson, a veteran Democratic strategist in the state. She was able to get a lot of sporadic voters who historically dont come out in gubernatorial races, to turn out. She went to low-propensity voters folks that have moved or maybe fell off the voting rolls. I think the operation and apparatus she built then will be used to help elect a Democrat [next year].

She always had plans and knows what she wants to do

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I became more and more afraid, reluctant to do the work of campaigning because I didnt want to pick up the phone and hear another person I admired tell me my skin color and gender would be my undoing. Photograph: Peyton Fulford/The Guardian

Abrams began to find her own political voice in the early 1990s, while studying at the historically black Spelman College in Atlanta.

She led organizing efforts when an unarmed black man, Rodney King, was assaulted by Los Angeles police in 1991. She appeared on TV news, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, alongside the citys first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, where the two sparred over Atlantas policing tactics. Jackson later gave Abrams her maiden job in politics as a research assistant for the city.

It was also at Spelman that Abrams begin to organize her life into a series of formal goals. Spurred by a romantic breakup at the time, she started entering her ambitions into a spreadsheet. By 24, she aimed to write a bestselling spy novel. By 30, she would become a millionaire. And at 35, the mayor of Atlanta. Her goals shifted over time she published eight romance novels rather than spy novels, and she was elected to the Georgia house of representatives in 2007.

Stacey has always been very, very direct, says her youngest sister, Jeanine Abrams McLean. She always had plans and knows what she wants to do and develops plans to make sure it gets done.

As leader of the Democratic minority, Abrams earned bipartisan respect for her practical approach to governance..

She may be the most brilliant woman or person Ive ever met, says Allen Peake, a former Georgia house Republican who supported Kemp in 2018. She is incredibly intelligent, incredibly quick on her feet, incredibly well prepared for every political battle she enters.

Peake mentions the time Abrams rallied Democrats to support a medical marijuana bill he worked on, as well as numerous GOP budgets passed with her support. She was very pragmatic, he says. Even so, he remains critical of her 2018 platform, which he characterizes as radical.

Kemps tenure as governor, meanwhile, has proved disastrous for progressive causes in the state, among the most rapidly diversifying in the country. He signed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in America and has refused to expand healthcare provisions, despite polling indicating a majority of Georgians disapproved of both decisions.

Abrams describes this as a tyranny of the minority suppressing the vote, she argues, has led to the suppression of the views of the majority.

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A mural featuring the face of Stacey Abrams in Atlanta, Georgia. Photograph: Elijah Nouvelage/The Washington Post via Getty Images

It is not possible to win by only talking to those weve talked to before

There is an arresting passage in Abrams autobiography, Lead from the Outside, describing the doubts she battled as she announced her gubernatorial candidacy. Some of her closest friends and mentors declined to back her bid. Their message was blunt: Georgia was not ready to elect a black woman to high office. Abrams almost dropped out of the primary after one close mentor, who she does not name, declined to support her.

I became more and more afraid, reluctant to do the work of campaigning because I didnt want to pick up the phone and hear another person I admired tell me my skin color and gender would be my undoing, she writes in the book, which was published before last years election.

Even though she is pouring her energy into fighting voting suppression, and has been touted as a potential running mate for Joe Biden, those feelings are still devastating.

It remains a reason that I have people I thought were friends that I acknowledge now werent true friendships. A number of them came back after I won the primary, but its a conversation that helped me understand that this is not simply a trope held by those who oppose me as a Democrat. It was a trope held by those who just didnt believe in the capacity of communities of color to hold power.

The Democrats are hoping to win back the mostly white voters who swung to Trump in 2016, yet Abrams argues that embracing ostracized communities of color is essential.

Identity politics is good politics for Democrats, she says. It is not possible to win and to build the coalitions we need to build by only talking to those weve talked to before.

Abrams laughs a little awkwardly when asked if she has been approached by any of the candidates. No one has rung my phone yet. But she remains open. I think it would be fantastic to be invited to be someones running mate, but you cant plan your life around someone elses wishes.

Meanwhile, Abrams still maintains those spreadsheets she started writing back at university. She last updated one in February of this year. She struck off Governor of Georgia by 2018 from the list, and updated it to include her forthcoming work on voting rights.

But she didnt touch one goal that has been on there for years : president of the United States by 2028. Its still on there, but for later, she says.

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Smoking gun: should you be able to use a firearm while stoned?

As legalization reaches the red states, the conflict between federal gun and marijuana laws becomes an issue

In November 2018, a Pennsylvania doctor who both used and prescribed medical marijuana sued the US government. He had attempted to buy a revolver for self-defense, but he had been denied at the store because he uses a federally illegal drug. Dr Matthew Roman claimed his inability to buy a gun violated his rights under the US constitutions second amendment and the fifth amendments equal protection clause.

Roman subsequently lost his medical license because of his problematic cannabis use. His lawsuit was dismissed, but not before a government lawyer weighed in: The second amendment does not protect those who choose to illegally take mind-altering drugs, and who commit to continuing to do so.

In fact, its not so clearcut. At least one state has made it legal for medical marijuana users to own guns. But the move sidesteps the bigger question: is allowing the combination of high-powered pot and gun use a good idea? Legalization has reached the conservative heartland. Oklahoma, as pro-gun a state as there is, has a fast-growing medical marijuana industry, and this spring the governor signed a law to protect the right of medical marijuana-using Oklahomans to buy and own guns.

In Texas, which has been slower to change its marijuana laws, the issue is on the horizon. The Dallas Morning News recently quoted a veteran who acquires his medical marijuana illegally, so he can continue to buy guns. Why am I going to give up one of my rights because I found an organic plant that some are uncomfortable with? Joshua Raines said. Im not going to do that. Im not going to trade my rights like baseball cards.

Thanks to the hippies, marijuana is sometimes perceived as a liberals drug. Merle Haggards 1969 culture war anthem Okie from Muskogee released weeks after Woodstock begins, We dont smoke marijuana in Muskogee.

Weapons of war had not yet became totems of American rightwing identity. But its fair to assume even then there were a fair number of illegal pot patches in deep red Oklahoma. Theres still significant support for marijuana legalization on the libertarian right, which is a force in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and other early states to legalize marijuana. At times Haggard himself was a prodigious toker.

Oklahomas law is one way to paper over the conflict between federal gun and marijuana laws. Medical weed legalization might even be seen as a blow to the stigma which still surrounds marijuana: the state says law-abiding adults can be trusted with both firearms and pot.

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Illustration: George Wylesol/The Guardian

Meanwhile, strong support for medical marijuana research among veterans has accelerated legalization faster than anyone might have reasonably expected. Many veterans claim cannabis has helped them cope with PTSD, opioid addiction and related symptoms. Thus far the evidence of medical marijuanas benefits in this area are largely anecdotal.

But veterans groups say 20 veterans commit suicide daily and research suggests access to guns increases the risk of suicide. Many within the marijuana industry suggest access to medical marijuana can help reduce veteran suicides, although much more research is necessary. Either way, marijuana adds another volatile element to this already combustible mix.

Earlier this year, the former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson published a book Tell Your Children which attempts to link marijuana use with acts of extreme violence. The book has been widely criticized, but one need not fully subscribe to Berensons alarmism to recognize the potential hazards of pot and guns. In one notorious 2014 incident, which Berenson details at length, a Denver man who ingested too many edibles, got into the gun safe and fatally shot his wife.

Americans have also adjusted to a world where random mass shootings have become commonplace. Some of these shooters have been users of cannabis and other drugs. In the politics of the moment, cannabis has not received much of the blame as it relates to these massacres. Berensons book is not notable for its restraint, but even he gives this question a wide berth.

Of course, a great many cannabis users almost certainly are capable of responsible gun ownership. But the weapons currently available in much of the US foster the possibility that any slight misunderstanding or grudge can escalate instantly into horrific carnage. Adding marijuana into the mix doesnt change, and perhaps exacerbates, that basic equation.

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Can marijuana help end the opioids crisis?

In states where medical marijuana is legal, doctors write fewer opioid prescriptions and patients consume lower doses

Legalization opponents call marijuana a gateway drug that leads users to more dangerous substances. But could it also be an exit drug that helps ease the opioids crisis?

The data is scarce, but the anecdotes are plentiful.

After more than a decade in the US air force, Jennifer Baxter needed foot surgery. It wasnt successful, and she had to have two more procedures to correct her severely disfigured, painful and mechanically incorrect foot.

Baxter had had surgeries before, and had taken opioids to recover. But, as she tells it, this time she connected with a civilian doctor known for his generosity with pain medication.

After receiving a medical retirement, Baxter was prescribed her 600 pills a month, including 480 oxycodone (a generic version of the opioid OxyContin), she said.

Soon the months oxycodone lasted only 21 days. She lost her career, gained an unhealthy amount of weight and contemplated suicide. I was watching the clock all day every day for three and a half years, she said.

She heard medical marijuana might be helpful and began using it in spring 2016. Balancing it with the slow-release morphine to stave off the symptoms of opioid withdrawal, she quit pills entirely in several months.

Today Baxter, 40, has a new life. She is engaged to be married. She volunteers with rescue animals and is involved in her church. She has lost weight and lives in Arizona, where she can legally obtain medical marijuana for her pain, PTSD and insomnia. She takes it nightly and sometimes during the day.

In 2017, a record 47,600 Americans died of opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The grim tally represents an increase of more than 10% from 2016, the previous record year. More Americans die from opioid overdoses than car crashes or gunshots.

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In 2017, a record 47,600 Americans died of opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Illustration: George Wyleso/The Guardian

Almost no one considers marijuana to be as ruinous for individuals or society. But legalization activists and the industry have marshalled anecdotal evidence and personal testimonies to support the notion that cannabis can help people wean themselves off opioids.

As with all issues surrounding medical marijuana, theres not much good data. Despite encouraging stories like Baxters Ive heard lots of them there have been no formal clinical trials to determine whether cannabis is an effective treatment for opioid addiction. And cannabis remains unproven as an adequate substitute for opioids in treating chronic pain, which is how many addictions begin, sometimes after car or work-related accidents. Despite public perceptions, the evidence for cannabis as a painkiller is actually weak and riddled with limitations, the psychologist Jonathan M Stea wrote recently in Scientific American.

However, studies have consistently shown that in states where medical marijuana is legal, doctors write fewer opioid prescriptions and patients consume lower doses of opioids. (One study released in 2018 found evidence that states with legal medical marijuana saw fewer prescriptions for weaker schedule III opioids but not the more addictive and powerful schedule II drugs.)

Despite the paucity of data, the exit drug theory has led to overwhelming support for medical marijuana research among veterans. Several US states allow anyone with an opioid prescription to obtain a medical marijuana card.

The interest in cannabis as a substitute for opioids comes as opioid makers face escalating scrutiny and legal trouble. In March, a group of more 600 US cities, counties and Native American tribes filed a lawsuit alleging that eight people in a single family made the choices that caused much of the opioid epidemic. The family, the Sacklers, control Connecticut-based Purdue Pharmaceuticals, which introduced OxyContin in 1996.

The family denied the allegations in a statement.

Last week, Purdue and the Sackler family agreed to pay $275m to settle a lawsuit brought by the state of Oklahoma. (The family was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.)

Whatever caused the opioid crisis, it is a deeply complex problem, one that few if any credible observers think will be relieved by cannabis alone. And some reject the idea of employing a drug as an appropriate response to a drug crisis.

When we are dealing with opioids as the single biggest health crisis this state has ever had, you are going to tell me legalizing more drugs is the answer? New Hampshires Republican governor Chris Sununu said last fall. Absolutely not.

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‘A bleak prospect’: why legal weed in Britain may be a pipe dream

While public interest is growing, experts say a mix of political and social factors is holding back change

The legalization of cannabis in the US shows no signs of slowing down but the prospect of a green rush in the UK, experts say, is bleak.

The consultancy Hanway Associates aims to bring North American-style cannabis capitalism to the UK and Europe. This month, the group is hosting the Cannabis Europa conference in London, but its CEO, George McBride, does not expect drastic change anytime soon.

According to a 2018 survey commissioned by the drug policy thinktank Volteface, which has ties to Hanway, 59% of the British public supports cannabis legalization. But the political dynamics that have made legal marijuana all but inevitable in the US are absent in the UK.

In both countries, there are racial discrepancies in drug enforcement. However, the aggressive and widely despised police tactics associated with Americas war on drugs never took hold in Britain, nor did they contribute to mass incarceration and other life-ruining consequences for perpetrators.

Second, as McBride and his colleague Alastair Moore note, the UK hasnt experienced an opioid crisis, or the subsequent disillusionment with mainstream pharmaceuticals and the medical field. Nor is there an entrenched constituency of veterans suffering from PTSD, concussive brain injuries and other ailments, which have led to a desperate search for alternatives.

While the British public is interested in medical marijuana, and CBD is advertised on many high streets in particular, there does not seem to be any significant constituency eager to implement a for-profit industry on a large scale. And there is not an industry-funded medical marijuana lobby insisting on the issues urgency.

Last year, Charlotte Caldwell, a Northern Irish mother, arrived at Heathrow from Canada with her son Billy, a 12 year-old who has a severe seizure disorder, and cannabis oil she acquired to treat him. When authorities confiscated the medicine, it led to a public outcry, and within weeks the UK had legalized medical marijuana for a very limited number of patients. It was the biggest cannabis story in Britain since the scare about high potency skunk weed in the 1990s. But it hardly galvanized the country to legalize it for everyone.

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Experts say the prospect of a green rush in the UK is bleak. Illustration: George Wylesol/THE GUARDIAN

Public support for legalization in the UK is broad but not deep, McBride said. In other words, its not an issue that decides how people vote. The same can largely be said for the Trump-era US, but the political levers American legalization supporters have wielded so effectively dont really exist in the UK. In particular, theres no equivalent of the state referendums which have been crucial to legalizing in many of the states that have legalized medical marijuana and almost all of those that have legalized the drug for recreational use.

Finally, one of the most effective arguments for legalizing in the US is that it makes more sense to regulate and tax the drug, rather than allow lawless cartels to control it. Thus far, US marijuana taxes have not brought much money into state coffers, but the argument appeals to the American mind.

In the UK, however, legalization actually polls lower when you ask about taxing it. McBride and Moore attributed it to skepticism towards business, coming both from the left and the protectionist right. The specter of violent drug traffickers doesnt loom as large in the British imagination.

Still, major social developments in the US usually reach Britain somehow. I suspect a combination of social and corporate pressure could eventually change minds. Within two or three years, as attractive cannabis cafes become more familiar in Chicago, Boston and California, and more professional Americans incorporate cannabis into their lives, more Brits will become curious, not to say envious. As that happens, growing cannabis companies will start looking for effective arguments to persuade the public in Britain and other countries. Until then, theyve got their hands full trying to turn a profit in North America.

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From casinos to cannabis: the Native Americans embracing the pot revolution

The long read: Gambling transformed reservations 40 years ago, but often only enriched a few. Could the legal marijuana business prove more broadly beneficial?

In February 2015, amid the cedar masks, canoe paddles and totem poles at the Tulalip Resort Casino north of Seattle, the talk was all about pot. Indian country had been abuzz about cannabis since the previous autumn, when the Justice Department had released a memorandum which seemed to open the way for tribal cannabis as a manifestation of tribal sovereignty. (I grew up Ojibwe on a reservation in Minnesota, and I use the word Indian to refer to indigenous people within the US. I also use indigenous, Native and American Indian. These terms have come in and out of favour over the years, and different tribes, and different people, have different preferences.)

The gathering at Tulalip was technically a legal education conference, so a slew of lawyers in thousand-dollar suits were there, of course, but so were private-equity entrepreneurs, tribal officials and tribal potheads. One of the last a gangly twenty- or thirtysomething wearing Chuck Taylors, a very ripped T-shirt and a headband that held back his lank hair slouched low in his chair and didnt speak a word all day. His companions spoke a bit more, but with the sleepy demeanour of people who have just purchased a dime bag and smoked it all. They didnt talk business as much as they talked relationships: We have a relationship with pot. Its a medicine from Mother Earth. Like, cannabis is tribal. Its consistent with our relationship with Mother Earth.

Wandering among them were tribal small-business owners, people who ran gravel companies or sold smoked fish or espresso along the freeway. They had forked over $500 for lunch and a name tag to explore what marijuana legalisation might mean for their community or maybe to explore where the pay dirt lay at the intersection of legalisation and tribal sovereignty.

The lawyers and policy people gave talks about state laws; the history of marijuana legalisation in California, Colorado and Washington; and the social, cultural and political ramifications of legalisation. Tribal leaders spoke about the ways in which tribal growing could be a whole new revenue stream, if not a new tribal industry. Behind these discussions were coded questions, old and new: How best to provide for a people in the absence of industry and opportunity? How to use tribal sovereignty to the best possible effect? Did tribes really want to invest in another lifestyle economy like tobacco shops, casinos and tourism? No one knew what to make of the potheads.

The received notion reinforced at every turn in editorials and investigative pieces and popular culture is that reservations are where Indians go to suffer and die. They are seen by many Indians as well as non-Indians not as expressions of tribal survival, however twisted or flawed, but as little more than prisons, expressions of the perversion of American democratic ideals into greed a greed rapacious enough to take Indian land and decimate Indian populations, but not quite harsh enough to annihilate us outright.

But reservations are not stagnant places. Despite their staggering rates of unemployment, they are home not only to traditional ways of living but to new tribal business as well. Pot as a tribal industry has a parent: the casino. Arguably, the casinos arrival in Indian country had as defining an effect on the social and economic lives of Indians in the past 50 years as the mass migration of Indians to American cities. Many Indians refer to the time before tribal gaming as BC Before Casino.

By 1987, gaming enterprises were under way across the country, with the biggest concentration of casinos in California and Oklahoma. The courts were still deliberating the questions of rights v regulation, but Indians having waited in so many ways for so many years to have their sovereignty affirmed were not. The increase in funding for tribal programmes throughout the 70s, the emphasis on improving access to education, support for the poor, funding for healthcare all of this positioned Indians to move, and move fast. By the mid-80s, elected tribal leaders had gained 40 years of experience in Indian Rights Association governments, and 40 years of experience in dealing with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and state and federal governments.

They had become expert at playing with soft power, and were prepared to make the most of the opportunity for gaming. Within a year of the tribes winning the right to open casinos in California, gaming was bringing in $100m a year. The door to economic development at least in the realm of gambling seemed to have been flung wide open.

But not so fast: the states, a powerful lobby in their own right, were determined to have a stake in Indian gambling, or at least some measure of control. The federal government felt the same way. So in 1988, Congress passed and Reagan signed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (Igra), which codified the process by which tribes administered gambling.

After the act was passed, Indian gaming boomed. Revenues grew from $100m in 1988 to more than $26bn in 2009 more than Vegas and Atlantic City took in combined. Despite the influx of money in general, however, gaming changed little for most Indians. This is America, after all. Like all American avenues to wealth, casinos privilege the few and leave out the majority. But, at Tulalip, signs of a possible third way have emerged.

It might seem surprising to suggest that, in order to find America, you need to look at Indian communities and reservations. But its true. The questions posed by Americas founding documents and early history What is the reach of the federal government? What should it be? How to balance the rights of the individual against those of the collective? What is, at the end of the day, the proper role of the federal government in our social structures and lives? How to balance the demands of community and modernity? How to preserve, protect and foster the middle class? are answered by looking at Indians, at our communities and our history.


Two months after the pot summit, I sat across from Eddy Pablo in a Minneapolis casino. He had come armed with notes and handouts about marijuana legalisation, medical uses of marijuana, and tribal dispositions about legalisation and capitalisation at Tulalip. Eddy is about 5ft 10in, with an absurdly strong build, dark skin, small eyes and spiky black hair in a neat crew cut. Hes 31, with three children, and he is on the make.

Ive lived here my whole life. Both my parents are from here. Im thankful for it. He is soft-spoken but gives off a sense that nothing bothers him. Yet there is plainly a kind of seething, sliding, waiting energy underneath his social self. My high school in Marysville was a subtle racist high school. Not so much the kids. But the teachers had no expectations for us. All of us Indian kids were underperforming. If you have low expectations, then thats all the kid will strive for. I wanted to go to college but my sophomore English grade was crappy. They put me in a special reading class.

This was followed by depression and tutoring. He made it to community college but it didnt stick. He ran afoul of the law and landed in jail. After he got out, he got hooked on diving for geoduck (freshwater clams). You dont get to dive very much. Maybe eight days a year. But a boat can make 13k in three hours. Eddy becomes more animated when he talks about being on the water.

The next day he picks me up to go digging for clams on Cama Beach Point. His car is packed with five-gallon buckets, shovels, rakes and his son, Cruz, tucked in the backseat. As we drive, he points out the landmarks. The Tulalip Reservation 22,000 acres of Indian land sits between Interstate 5 and Puget Sound just north of Seattle. It is indescribably beautiful.

Thats where I grew up, he says, pointing at a nondescript house facing a silty bay that was, until relatively recently, thick with salmon. Cedar, until recently, grew down to the shore.

Unlike most tribes, people here are doing all right, economically speaking. In fact, they are doing very well. The median household income at Tulalip is a comfortable $68,000 per year, well above the national average. Tribal members do get a per-capita payment from gaming revenues, though according to Eddy its not more than $15,500 a year.

The tribe, as a collective, as a business, is doing better as well. Every tribal building is new. The tribal office where Eddy picked up our permit is a soaring architectural treasure. Theres also the youth centre, the museum, the cultural centre all of them cedar-clad. Where once the tribes wealth could be measured in fish, it can now be measured in income and infrastructure.

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A casino resort on the Tulalip Indian Reservation north of Seattle, Washington. Photograph: Richard Uhlhorn/Alamy

As for Eddy, without a college degree and with three kids to support, he hustles. He sees marijuana as something that can be added to the mix. We should get in the business, he says. Not just opening dispensaries. Or growing. Our sovereignty can give us a leg up. We should grow, process and dispense. We could control the whole chain. I wonder out loud if the tribe really wants to hitch itself to another lifestyle economy like cigarettes and gambling.

Look, says Eddy. Heroin is here. Once they changed the chemical makeup of prescription drugs [like OxyContin], everyone turned back to heroin. People die from that. No one dies from pot. And the tribe wants it. The people want it. We did a survey and 78% (of tribal members) voted yes for bringing our (tribal) code in line with the state. Fifty-three per cent wanted to open it up only to medical marijuana and 25% wanted that and recreational use to be legal. It could be our niche.

By now weve reached the beach. We have only an hour, two at most, while the tide is out, to dig and sort. Soon the water will come back in and cover the clam beds, and they will be lost to us. So much of life at Tulalip has the same kind of rhythm small windows in which one can make a lot of money, slow spells when none is to be made, and then another hard push. Its not the kind of labour that breeds confidence or even certainty: no clocking in, working, clocking out, and pulling in a wage and benefits. So how, I ask, does he make ends meet? Whats his job?

He gets his per-cap from the tribe. He crabs a few days. He dives a few days. He goes after geoduck and sea cucumber and salmon. And in the same manner he runs his fireworks stand at Boom City in the summer.

Youve got to see it, he says. You wouldnt believe it. A fireworks bazaar. Bigger than anything. And theres a place to light them off. Its like world war three. He seems to think this is a good thing. And in a way I suppose it is, just like his whole operation: a patchwork of opportunities that are exploited aggressively and together add up to a living. A good one.

We have a story, says Eddy as we drive away. Cruz is asleep in his car seat. When all else fails, we were instructed to dig. The clams are always there. Theres food waiting there.


In addition to opening new avenues to wealth and creating a wealth gap in Indian country casinos have had another major effect: theyve thrown into stark relief the vexing question of who gets to be Indian at all.

Americas first blood-quantum law was passed in Virginia in 1705, in order to determine who had a high enough degree of Indian blood to be classified an Indian and whose rights could be restricted as a result. Blood quantum was simply a measure of how much Indian blood (full blood, half, quarter, eighth) a person had. It was often wildly inaccurate, culturally incongruous and socially divisive. It is still used to determine who can be an enrolled member of some federally recognised tribes, and it is just as divisive now as it was then.

Youd think, after all these years, wed finally manage to kick the concept. But recently, casino-rich Indian tribes in California, Michigan, Oregon and other states have been using it themselves to disenroll those whose tribal bloodlines, they say, are not pure enough to share in the profits.

As of 2017, more than 50 tribes across the country have banished or disenrolled at least 8,000 tribal members in the past two decades. Many different rationales have been used to justify it, but its telling that 73% of the tribes actively kicking out tribal members have gaming operations.

Whats fascinating to me is that the whole question of culture didnt become part of the conversation about who is and who isnt Indian at all until the period AC After Casinos. True, being Indian (as something one did in addition to being something one simply was) began back with the Red Power movement and was amplified by the American Indian Movement (AIM), which, at the start, was primarily concerned with Indians economic independence and freedom from police brutality. But in those early discussions and actions, being Indian was more a matter of politics and emotional affinity than a matter of culture. Even the religions claimed by AIM were antagonistic and political: AIMsters danced the Sun Dance as a way of saying Were not you more than as a positive assertion of religious identity. But after casinos began injecting millions and then hundreds of millions and then billions of dollars into Indian economies, culture really came to the fore of discussions of Indianness.

By the end of the 1990s, there was enough cushion for enough Indians and enough money to begin pondering, in earnest, what being Indian meant. They had enough space in their lives to want to connect to their tribes in ways that were value-positive, that didnt see being Indian as a matter of being a full-blood or being enrolled or being simply dark, as had been the case when I was growing up. Rather, being Indian became a matter of knowing your language, attending ceremony, harvesting game and wild rice or pion or salmon. Being Indian was still to some degree a matter of blood, but it was also in the process of becoming about much more.

The struggles of Indian people across the country are bound up in what it means to be Indian. But to be Indian is not to be poor or to struggle. To believe in sovereignty, to let it inform and define not only ones political and legal existence but also ones community, to move through the world imbued with the dignity of that reality, is to resolve one of the major contradictions of modern Indian life: it is to find a way to be Indian and modern simultaneously.


The cannabis industry has started modestly at Tulalip. It is unclear what it will bring or where it will end. Some, like Eddy, think pot shouldnt necessarily be a tribal enterprise, but rather something tribal individuals can participate in, another small-business opportunity that can help make up an income. But how the tribe will exploit the cannabis market collectively is an open question, dependent not only on the unique politics at Tulalip but also on the way tribes do business in general.

Les Parks, the former tribal vice-chairman of the Tulalip and current treasurer, has been at the forefront in trying to get the tribe into the business. While vice-chairman, he put together the pot summit. But after the summit and a subsequent election, Les stepped down, having shot his bolt on the whole issue, according to him, and having failed to overrule those who opposed the idea. As on most other reservations, tribal enterprise at Tulalip is controlled by a small group of people who have grown up together in a very small community. A small village council can control millions on millions of dollars, and so big decisions are often, at their core, made for very personal reasons.

Im met by Les, in bolo tie, boots and a very large, very new pickup truck. Les is proud of his community, and he has obviously given the tour of the reservation many times. But when I ask how much the casino makes, or the fisheries, or anything else, he is evasive. Oh, we do OK. Every year we send $62m in taxes to Olympia. That should give you an idea.

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A cannabis dispensary on the Tualip reservation. Photograph: Genna Martin

Its understandable that a wildly successful tribe like the Tulalip dont want to say how much theyre pulling in. The federal government has treaty obligations to the Tulalip to provide for housing and services, among other things obligations that, when all is going well, the government is only too happy to let slide. So the fiscal rhetoric of reservations, if not the social rhetoric, is always one of want and need.

Les veers down a long, narrow road that ends near a creek feeding into the sound. This is where his familys original allotment was. My great-great-grandfather must have been important because this was a good place to live, right next to the creek. It would have been full of salmon. But Les has suffered like so many Indians have suffered: he lost his mother to a drunk driver, his father wasnt around very much. The house he grew up in, long gone rotted or burned or pulled down was of rough-cut lumber and tar paper. He had a lot of brothers and sisters. There wasnt much to go around.

Many of the people I talked to had similar stories fathers and brothers lost to the sea, heavy drinking, absentee parents, poor living conditions. Here as elsewhere, survival was the principal challenge for Indians for well over a century. And from Less story, like others, its clear that a tolerance for conflict, pain and uncertainty a kind of wild and unpredictable daily drama has been necessary to that survival. What, then, allows growth? What are the ingredients necessary for a community not only to make money, but to grow real wealth?

My sister-in-law got Parkinsons disease. It was horrible to watch. Pot helped her. It helped her pain a lot. But Les doesnt want the tribe to sell pot. Or to only sell it. I want us to use our sovereignty to fast-track clinical trials for the uses of marijuana extracts. We could do it faster and better than any of the pharmaceutical companies out there. Were already talking to Bastyr University. Thats where I want us to go. There are a lot of uses for extracts and there is no pharmaceutical company in North America that is looking in that direction. We could be the first. He looks off over the sound. Theres even some research that suggests cannabis extracts can be used to cure type 2 diabetes. Think about that. Think about an Indian company, a tribal pharmaceutical company, that could cure the greatest threat to our health.

Fifteen per cent of American Indians have diabetes, and in some communities in the south-west, the rate is as high as 22%. And diabetes is only part of the problem. Along with high dropout, unemployment and poverty rates, Indians have a mortality rate from accidental death that is twice the national average. Life, for many of us, is not merely bleak: its short, poor, painful, unhealthy and tumultuous.

Just as Les moved from poverty to relative comfort in about 30 years, so too has the tribe. According to the Tribal Employment Rights Organization (Tero), there are 62 registered small businesses owned and operated by Indians on the Tulalip Reservation right now, but since businesses register annually, that swells to more than 160 when theres a big project on the books. And that figure doesnt seem to include fishermen (there were by my count more than 20 boats in the fleet) or the 139 tribally owned and operated fireworks stands at Boom City, or tribal businesses in areas that are, technically at least, off the reservation. When I add all that up, I figure at least a few hundred Indians are in on the hustle no different, in their way, from the many who sell crafts on Etsy, auction game on eBay, plough driveways and make T-shirts on the side. There is, despite historical oppression and in contrast to the received stereotypes about Indians, an active and thriving entrepreneurial class at Tulalip.

The tribe has opened a dispensary, but hasnt given up on Less bigger vision. Even if we cant do it, it should be done, he says. I cant help agreeing. Why shouldnt the tribe, surrounded as it is by Boeing and Microsoft and Amazon, wed tribal enterprise and wealth to technological enterprise and wealth? A pharmaceutical company could be the way to bring Tulalips economy out from under the lifestyle economies that have marked, till now, tribal enterprise.

Tribal power is an interesting thing. With a structure like Tulalips, power rests in the hands of a very few, and the absence of term limits makes it very easy to keep doing the same thing but very, very hard to do anything new.


Boom City is exactly how it sounds. For two weeks leading up to the Fourth of July, the largest fireworks bazaar west of the Mississippi rises from the gravel on a vacant lot near the casino. Plywood shanties are trucked to the site and arranged in neat rows. The awnings are opened and the sale begins. Each of the 139 stands is stuffed with fireworks. All of the stands are Native-owned, and the action is administered by a board of directors, which in turn is administered by the tribe. All of the stands are painted brightly, and many bear equally colourful names: Up in Smoke, One Night Stand, Boom Boom Long Time, Porno for Pyro, Titty Titty Bang Bang. Others bespeak proud ownership: Mikeys, Eddys, Juniors.

Its slow when I arrive at Eddys stand, but even so there is a lot of money changing hands. Fireworks like gaming and, to a lesser extent, tobacco are regulated by the state. And as sovereign nations, Indian tribes in states such as Washington, where fireworks are illegal, enjoy a monopoly on their sale. I find Eddy deep in his stand, trying to avoid the sun.

The weathers keeping people away. Too hot. He also tells me business is slow because someone was caught earlier that day selling illegal fireworks nearby, and the incident has made customers skittish. By Friday the cars will be backed up to the highway, Eddy assures me. If youre the last man standing with a full load of fireworks on the last day, you can sell it all.

The wholesalers set up shop on the outskirts of Boom City and circle around taking orders for the vendors. There are two espresso stands and a few food stands. Someone has lined the back of their pickup with a tarp and filled it with water, and five kids cavort and splash in it. Other kids, as young as four or five, walk through the stands chirping Iced tea! Pop! Gatorade! in a miniature mimic of the men and women selling fireworks who have perfected the banter of bazaar merchants the world over.

In the afternoon, the sound of fireworks many and large can be heard nearby. Theres a field on the edge of Boom City set aside for setting them off. Just as fireworks can be sold on the rez but not in the state, so too can they be exploded on the rez. And Boom City is happy to provide the space. Its a free-for-all. Rockets, mortars, roman candles, spinners. They all go off at once and continuously. A haze settles over the lot like the haze over a battlefield. Periodically, the security guards call a halt to the explosions, but only to make room for even larger ones: tribal members and this seems to be a uniquely cultural thing will light off upward of $1,000 worth of fireworks as a memorial for someone in their family who has passed on. They are remembered with an exploding wall of sound.

Ideas arent quietly laid to rest here either. Having explored the possibility of teaming up with the Lummi nation to start a pharmaceutical company, and having met with resistance there as well, Les Parks has recently taken the project back. Political power waxes and wanes, and as the dynamics on the council shifted, Les, visionary and dogged, has brought the idea of a pharmaceutical company back to Tulalip. This time he has more support.

I wander back to Eddys, dazed by the fireworks and by everything else Ive seen at Tulalip. What I have seen here isnt just what a tribe could be (though there was that, too) but what America might be. If only. Tulalip is a conglomeration of separate tribes that came together (by choice, circumstance and under pressure) to form a nation. It has suffered its own internal divisions and traumas. It has endured natural and civic disasters, gone through recession and poverty and joblessness. But it has found a way to provide free healthcare for all its citizens, free education for those who want it, free (excellent) childcare for working parents, a safe and comfortable retirement option for its elders, and a robust safety net woven from per-capita payments that, while barely enough to support a single person and not enough to fully support a family, are enough to encourage its citizens to venture into enterprises small and large. The nation provides for its most vulnerable citizens the young and the old. And it provides enough security for the people in between lifes beginnings and ends so that they can really see what they might become.

This is an edited extract from The Heartbeat at Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer, published by Corsair on 28 March

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adminFrom casinos to cannabis: the Native Americans embracing the pot revolution
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Smoking gun: should you be able to use a firearm while stoned?

As legalization reaches the red states, the conflict between federal gun and marijuana laws becomes an issue

In November 2018, a Pennsylvania doctor who both used and prescribed medical marijuana sued the US government. He had attempted to buy a revolver for self-defense, but he had been denied at the store because he uses a federally illegal drug. Dr Matthew Roman claimed his inability to buy a gun violated his rights under the US constitutions second amendment and the fifth amendments equal protection clause.

Roman subsequently lost his medical license because of his problematic cannabis use. His lawsuit was dismissed, but not before a government lawyer weighed in: The second amendment does not protect those who choose to illegally take mind-altering drugs, and who commit to continuing to do so.

In fact, its not so clearcut. At least one state has made it legal for medical marijuana users to own guns. But the move sidesteps the bigger question: is allowing the combination of high-powered pot and gun use a good idea? Legalization has reached the conservative heartland. Oklahoma, as pro-gun a state as there is, has a fast-growing medical marijuana industry, and this spring the governor signed a law to protect the right of medical marijuana-using Oklahomans to buy and own guns.

In Texas, which has been slower to change its marijuana laws, the issue is on the horizon. The Dallas Morning News recently quoted a veteran who acquires his medical marijuana illegally, so he can continue to buy guns. Why am I going to give up one of my rights because I found an organic plant that some are uncomfortable with? Joshua Raines said. Im not going to do that. Im not going to trade my rights like baseball cards.

Thanks to the hippies, marijuana is sometimes perceived as a liberals drug. Merle Haggards 1969 culture war anthem Okie from Muskogee released weeks after Woodstock begins, We dont smoke marijuana in Muskogee.

Weapons of war had not yet became totems of American rightwing identity. But its fair to assume even then there were a fair number of illegal pot patches in deep red Oklahoma. Theres still significant support for marijuana legalization on the libertarian right, which is a force in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and other early states to legalize marijuana. At times Haggard himself was a prodigious toker.

Oklahomas law is one way to paper over the conflict between federal gun and marijuana laws. Medical weed legalization might even be seen as a blow to the stigma which still surrounds marijuana: the state says law-abiding adults can be trusted with both firearms and pot.

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Illustration: George Wylesol/The Guardian

Meanwhile, strong support for medical marijuana research among veterans has accelerated legalization faster than anyone might have reasonably expected. Many veterans claim cannabis has helped them cope with PTSD, opioid addiction and related symptoms. Thus far the evidence of medical marijuanas benefits in this area are largely anecdotal.

But veterans groups say 20 veterans commit suicide daily and research suggests access to guns increases the risk of suicide. Many within the marijuana industry suggest access to medical marijuana can help reduce veteran suicides, although much more research is necessary. Either way, marijuana adds another volatile element to this already combustible mix.

Earlier this year, the former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson published a book Tell Your Children which attempts to link marijuana use with acts of extreme violence. The book has been widely criticized, but one need not fully subscribe to Berensons alarmism to recognize the potential hazards of pot and guns. In one notorious 2014 incident, which Berenson details at length, a Denver man who ingested too many edibles, got into the gun safe and fatally shot his wife.

Americans have also adjusted to a world where random mass shootings have become commonplace. Some of these shooters have been users of cannabis and other drugs. In the politics of the moment, cannabis has not received much of the blame as it relates to these massacres. Berensons book is not notable for its restraint, but even he gives this question a wide berth.

Of course, a great many cannabis users almost certainly are capable of responsible gun ownership. But the weapons currently available in much of the US foster the possibility that any slight misunderstanding or grudge can escalate instantly into horrific carnage. Adding marijuana into the mix doesnt change, and perhaps exacerbates, that basic equation.

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Can marijuana help end the opioids crisis?

In states where medical marijuana is legal, doctors write fewer opioid prescriptions and patients consume lower doses

Legalization opponents call marijuana a gateway drug that leads users to more dangerous substances. But could it also be an exit drug that helps ease the opioids crisis?

The data is scarce, but the anecdotes are plentiful.

After more than a decade in the US air force, Jennifer Baxter needed foot surgery. It wasnt successful, and she had to have two more procedures to correct her severely disfigured, painful and mechanically incorrect foot.

Baxter had had surgeries before, and had taken opioids to recover. But, as she tells it, this time she connected with a civilian doctor known for his generosity with pain medication.

After receiving a medical retirement, Baxter was prescribed her 600 pills a month, including 480 oxycodone (a generic version of the opioid OxyContin), she said.

Soon the months oxycodone lasted only 21 days. She lost her career, gained an unhealthy amount of weight and contemplated suicide. I was watching the clock all day every day for three and a half years, she said.

She heard medical marijuana might be helpful and began using it in spring 2016. Balancing it with the slow-release morphine to stave off the symptoms of opioid withdrawal, she quit pills entirely in several months.

Today Baxter, 40, has a new life. She is engaged to be married. She volunteers with rescue animals and is involved in her church. She has lost weight and lives in Arizona, where she can legally obtain medical marijuana for her pain, PTSD and insomnia. She takes it nightly and sometimes during the day.

In 2017, a record 47,600 Americans died of opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The grim tally represents an increase of more than 10% from 2016, the previous record year. More Americans die from opioid overdoses than car crashes or gunshots.

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In 2017, a record 47,600 Americans died of opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Illustration: George Wyleso/The Guardian

Almost no one considers marijuana to be as ruinous for individuals or society. But legalization activists and the industry have marshalled anecdotal evidence and personal testimonies to support the notion that cannabis can help people wean themselves off opioids.

As with all issues surrounding medical marijuana, theres not much good data. Despite encouraging stories like Baxters Ive heard lots of them there have been no formal clinical trials to determine whether cannabis is an effective treatment for opioid addiction. And cannabis remains unproven as an adequate substitute for opioids in treating chronic pain, which is how many addictions begin, sometimes after car or work-related accidents. Despite public perceptions, the evidence for cannabis as a painkiller is actually weak and riddled with limitations, the psychologist Jonathan M Stea wrote recently in Scientific American.

However, studies have consistently shown that in states where medical marijuana is legal, doctors write fewer opioid prescriptions and patients consume lower doses of opioids. (One study released in 2018 found evidence that states with legal medical marijuana saw fewer prescriptions for weaker schedule III opioids but not the more addictive and powerful schedule II drugs.)

Despite the paucity of data, the exit drug theory has led to overwhelming support for medical marijuana research among veterans. Several US states allow anyone with an opioid prescription to obtain a medical marijuana card.

The interest in cannabis as a substitute for opioids comes as opioid makers face escalating scrutiny and legal trouble. In March, a group of more 600 US cities, counties and Native American tribes filed a lawsuit alleging that eight people in a single family made the choices that caused much of the opioid epidemic. The family, the Sacklers, control Connecticut-based Purdue Pharmaceuticals, which introduced OxyContin in 1996.

The family denied the allegations in a statement.

Last week, Purdue and the Sackler family agreed to pay $275m to settle a lawsuit brought by the state of Oklahoma. (The family was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.)

Whatever caused the opioid crisis, it is a deeply complex problem, one that few if any credible observers think will be relieved by cannabis alone. And some reject the idea of employing a drug as an appropriate response to a drug crisis.

When we are dealing with opioids as the single biggest health crisis this state has ever had, you are going to tell me legalizing more drugs is the answer? New Hampshires Republican governor Chris Sununu said last fall. Absolutely not.

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‘A bleak prospect’: why legal weed in Britain may be a pipe dream

While public interest is growing, experts say a mix of political and social factors is holding back change

The legalization of cannabis in the US shows no signs of slowing down but the prospect of a green rush in the UK, experts say, is bleak.

The consultancy Hanway Associates aims to bring North American-style cannabis capitalism to the UK and Europe. This month, the group is hosting the Cannabis Europa conference in London, but its CEO, George McBride, does not expect drastic change anytime soon.

According to a 2018 survey commissioned by the drug policy thinktank Volteface, which has ties to Hanway, 59% of the British public supports cannabis legalization. But the political dynamics that have made legal marijuana all but inevitable in the US are absent in the UK.

In both countries, there are racial discrepancies in drug enforcement. However, the aggressive and widely despised police tactics associated with Americas war on drugs never took hold in Britain, nor did they contribute to mass incarceration and other life-ruining consequences for perpetrators.

Second, as McBride and his colleague Alastair Moore note, the UK hasnt experienced an opioid crisis, or the subsequent disillusionment with mainstream pharmaceuticals and the medical field. Nor is there an entrenched constituency of veterans suffering from PTSD, concussive brain injuries and other ailments, which have led to a desperate search for alternatives.

While the British public is interested in medical marijuana, and CBD is advertised on many high streets in particular, there does not seem to be any significant constituency eager to implement a for-profit industry on a large scale. And there is not an industry-funded medical marijuana lobby insisting on the issues urgency.

Last year, Charlotte Caldwell, a Northern Irish mother, arrived at Heathrow from Canada with her son Billy, a 12 year-old who has a severe seizure disorder, and cannabis oil she acquired to treat him. When authorities confiscated the medicine, it led to a public outcry, and within weeks the UK had legalized medical marijuana for a very limited number of patients. It was the biggest cannabis story in Britain since the scare about high potency skunk weed in the 1990s. But it hardly galvanized the country to legalize it for everyone.

Experts
Experts say the prospect of a green rush in the UK is bleak. Illustration: George Wylesol/THE GUARDIAN

Public support for legalization in the UK is broad but not deep, McBride said. In other words, its not an issue that decides how people vote. The same can largely be said for the Trump-era US, but the political levers American legalization supporters have wielded so effectively dont really exist in the UK. In particular, theres no equivalent of the state referendums which have been crucial to legalizing in many of the states that have legalized medical marijuana and almost all of those that have legalized the drug for recreational use.

Finally, one of the most effective arguments for legalizing in the US is that it makes more sense to regulate and tax the drug, rather than allow lawless cartels to control it. Thus far, US marijuana taxes have not brought much money into state coffers, but the argument appeals to the American mind.

In the UK, however, legalization actually polls lower when you ask about taxing it. McBride and Moore attributed it to skepticism towards business, coming both from the left and the protectionist right. The specter of violent drug traffickers doesnt loom as large in the British imagination.

Still, major social developments in the US usually reach Britain somehow. I suspect a combination of social and corporate pressure could eventually change minds. Within two or three years, as attractive cannabis cafes become more familiar in Chicago, Boston and California, and more professional Americans incorporate cannabis into their lives, more Brits will become curious, not to say envious. As that happens, growing cannabis companies will start looking for effective arguments to persuade the public in Britain and other countries. Until then, theyve got their hands full trying to turn a profit in North America.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

admin‘A bleak prospect’: why legal weed in Britain may be a pipe dream
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