Proposed Revisions to Decriminalize Marijuana on the Community

Emma Hughes

Gila River Indian News


In November 2020, Arizona voters passed Proposition 207, the Smart and Safe Arizona Act which legalized recreational marijuana for adults 21 years and older to use, possess and cultivate.


Subsequently, the Community’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) presented a memorandum outlining provisions in the new law to the Gila River Indian Community Council in December 2020.


Community Council referred the memorandum to the Legislative Standing Committee (LSC) to begin reviewing the GRIC code to decriminalize marijuana.


On Nov. 9, 2021 draft changes to the code were approved. OGC presented the proposed amendments for public comment on Saturday, Feb. 5, during two consecutive virtual meetings via WebEx, presented by Casaundra Wallace, Senior Assistant General Counsel.


These proposed changes – if ultimately passed by the Community Council – would allow medical and recreational marijuana in the Community in conformance with Arizona law.


Until the proposed revisions to GRIC Code Title 5 are approved by the Community Council, marijuana remains illegal in the Community.


In seeking a workable set of laws for the Community, OGC made revisions to state law to adapt them to the Community. Certain sections of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act and the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, passed in 2010, were not included in the proposed new Community laws because it was determined that they did not apply to GRIC’s intentions in decriminalizing and allowing marijuana.


Under Arizona law, medical marijuana users must possess a registry identification card issued by the Arizona Department of Health Services in order to use medical marijuana. No more than the currently permitted amount of 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana can be possessed at a time. 


Medical marijuana is defined to include both dried-leaf/flower form and extracted resin, which could be used to treat chronic or debilitating diseases or medical conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, severe and chronic pain, severe nausea, Crohn’s disease, severe persistent muscle spasms and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


The proposed revisions to GRIC Code Title 5 concerning recreational marijuana would allow adults 21 years and older to consume, possess, process, manufacture, or transport one ounce or less of marijuana and no more than five grams of marijuana concentrate, without consequence, similar to the state law. 


Adults 21 years and older may possess, process, and cultivate no more than six marijuana plants for personal use at a homesite, no matter how many homes are built on the site. Cultivation must be in an area where it is not accessible or visible to the public. Individuals who cultivate marijuana must register with Land Use Planning and Zoning (LUPZ) under the proposed revisions to GRIC Code.


Even if the new laws are adopted, employers will retain the right to have a zero-tolerance policy in the workplace. The amendments could bring a possibility to expunge current and past marijuana criminal cases in the Community.


A copy of the proposed revisions to Title 5 of the GRIC Code is available for review at each District Service Center, the Community Council Secretary’s Office, or by contacting the Office of General Counsel.


 Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, federal funding could be lost if the Community accepts it into the code. However, it appears that other tribes who have legalized it have not had any issues, explained Wallace.  


GRHC operates under federal contract and cannot issue medical licenses. The facility and staff will be subject to restrictions. 


Gila River Police Department’s Chief Timothy Chavez shared concerns about possible increase in DUIs, property crimes and the theft of personal marijuana. 


“Those are things we could see,” said Chief Chavez, who explained that similar incidents have been experienced in surrounding areas due to state legalization. He said that GRPD Officers will require additional training on the changes to Title 5 and may need additional equipment, should the GRIC Code be amended.


“I think the medical marijuana use could be something that could work here, for those who would need it, however, the recreational use, I totally object to.” Said another member, while others inquired about the education on marijuana and the funding for those resources. 


All questions and comments will be summarized and presented to Community Council.


If you are interested in providing comments on the proposed revision of Title 5 of the GRIC Code, LSC will hold its regular meeting on March 29, and welcomes you to attend. 


You may also contact your Council representative or the LSC Chairperson at (520) 562-9720, or provide written comments by email to or by mail to the Office of the General Counsel, P.O. Box 97, Sacaton, AZ 85147, Attn: Casaundra Wallace.