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June 25, 2017

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Tribe hosting marijuana festival near Las Vegas, despite warning from feds

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Peter Dejong / AP

A man smokes marijuana from a vaporizer during the 24th annual High Times Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Sunday Nov. 20, 2011.

The Moapa Paiute Tribe is going ahead with plans to host a marijuana festival near Las Vegas this weekend, despite warnings from the U.S. attorney in Nevada that marijuana use and possession remains a federal crime, a spokesman for the tribe said.

“Moapa is known for standing up for Native American rights and the rights of the people,” said former Moapa Chairman William Anderson, who is still involved with the tribe’s day-to-day decision-making. “We don’t back down.”

But whether the tribe will allow marijuana at the festival remains unsettled. “That was the plan, but after what happened, we’re still deciding how we’re going to do it,” Anderson said.

In a Feb. 16 letter to the Moapa Paiute Tribe, Daniel Bogden, U.S. attorney for the District of Nevada, tells tribe Chairman Darren Daboda that “marijuana use, possession and distribution on tribal lands” is illegal under federal law.

The letter warns that the U.S. Justice Department’s 2013 Cole Memorandum and 2014 Wilkinson Guidance Memorandum, which suggest leniency toward Native American tribes regarding marijuana, do not alter “the authority or jurisdiction of the United States to enforce federal law in Indian Country or elsewhere.”

The Cannabis Cup, run by industry magazine High Times, is slated for Saturday and Sunday on tribal land north of Las Vegas, next to the Moapa Paiute Travel Plaza, and is scheduled to feature educational seminars, a job fair, panels, a marijuana edibles cooking competition and samples of edibles. Headline entertainment includes rappers Ludacris and Chief Keef.

Anderson said Bogden showed up at the festival site with representatives of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and FBI the same day the letter was dated and delivered. They met with the tribal council and reiterated the points made in the letter, he said.

“This is the first Cannabis Cup held on a reservation in the country,” Anderson said. “It presents an economic opportunity for a lot of tribes, and many of them are watching to see what we want to do.”

The Cannabis Cup has welcomed up to 35,000 attendees at similar festivals. Through 2013, they were held in Amsterdam, but have recently popped up in Denver and the San Francisco Bay area. Two more Cannabis Cups are scheduled this year in California.

This weekend’s event, more than 20 miles from the nearest residential area, is expected to draw 15,000 participants and 300 vendors from 15 countries, Anderson said.

It’s part of a three-year contract with High Times to bring the semiannual festival to the Moapa Paiute Tribe’s land. Anderson estimated the six festivals could bring in up to $3 million for the tribe.

The tribe has hired security for the 21-and-over event, and tribal law enforcement will monitor the parking lot and surrounding areas over the weekend, Anderson said.

He did not know if federal law enforcement would show up.

Nevada voters approved a ballot question in November allowing adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of recreational marijuana for use in their homes. But Nevada medical marijuana dispensaries have not yet been authorized to sell recreational marijuana.

Last week, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggested federal authorities could crack down on recreational marijuana. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday made similar comments.

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