St. Croix Chippewa sue Wisconsin over CBC and hemp oil production sanctions

By J.S. Decker
News From Indian Country

Sovereign control over civil and regulatory affairs in a Public Law 280 state like Wisconsin allows production and processing of industrial hemp and hemp oil on tribal lands, the St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin asserted in a lawsuit filed Feb. 8.

The tribe seeks summary judgment from the Western District of Wisconsin US District Court to block potential sanctions by the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Industrial hemp was legalized in November and medical use of non-psychoactive hemp oils was first authorized in 2014, but specific state regulations have yet to be approved. “The Tribe’s legal rights are genuinely and actively contested in this matter,” the complaint states.

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel refuses to respect the tribe’s new ordinance, finalized in November to guide hemp oil production in a specialized 150,000 square-foot facility in Danbury, Wisconsin.

An effective treatment for seizure disorders, cannabidiol is one of at least 113 cannabinoids extracted from cannabis plants. If it were intoxicating like the closely-related marijuana, criminal law would unquestionably apply.

But, St. Croix General Counsel Jeff Cormell writes, “now that the state is no longer prohibiting these products, oversight is civil/regulatory, and therefore the responsibility of the tribe. They ask the court to firmly concur with that perspective and prohibit the attorney general from hindering production with any enforcement action.”

“The Tribe’s ability to regulate these types of non-criminal activities on tribal land is well-settled in the courts,” said attorney Brad Bartlett with McAllister Garfield P.C. The Denver firm helped Cormell prepare the tribe’s complaint.

Both the DOJ and US Attorney were consulted beginning in 2016. Their feedback led to rewrites of the St. Croix ordinance, but Attorney General Schimel remains firmly opposed.

Schimel’s office did not respond to requests for comment, but on Dec. 27, Schimel told the tribe he was “not in a position to make any promises or assurance with respect to potential law enforcement activity under state or federal law as it pertains to your tribe’s intentions with CBD oil.”

In February 2016, Schimel recalled earlier state and federal actions to restrict cannabis production by another tribe, adding, “I cannot imagine that the result would be any different should you move forward with your plans, and I assure you that the Division of Criminal Investigation will take a lead role in any such operation.”

St. Croix Tribal Council Member Elmer J. Emery praised leadership by Governor Scott Walker and legislators on hemp and CBD oils, adding, “The Attorney General’s threats against our Tribe for taking the exact same action in legalizing hemp and CBD are simply out of step with the State’s own legalization efforts.”


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