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The Election Board of the Hoopa Valley Tribe last night rejected a proposed measure for the June ballot that would have asked tribe members whether commercial cannabis cultivation should be allowed on the reservation. The board ruled that the tribal council hadn’t submitted the measure properly.
It’s the latest twist in the tribe’s messy and contentious political battle over legal weed.
As we reported last week, the tribal electorate narrowly approved recreational cannabis in 2018, but opponents argued that the ballot measure had been confusing and thus shouldn’t be binding.
At a heated meeting of the Hoopa Valley Tribal Council last Monday, a majority of council members voted to submit a new referendum for the upcoming election, asking voters to clarify whether they really think growing weed should be allowed on tribal lands.
But at last night’s meeting, the tribal election board said the referendum had been submitted in the wrong format.
“Basically, in order to put a referendum on the ballot you have to have [signatures from] a certain percentage of voters, or the tribal council has to make a resolution. They [the council] did a memorandum but there was no resolution,” explained Verla Robbins, the tribe’s election board chair.
Yesterday was the deadline to submit measures for the June ballot, so if the tribal council wants to try again — to resubmit the measure as a resolution rather than a memo — they’ll either have to wait until the next general election or schedule a special election, which can cost between $10,000 and $15,000, Robbins said.
Tribal Chairman Ryan Jackson was relieved when he heard the news last night. He’s a proponent of legalization and believes the tribe settled the matter at the ballot box last year. Opponents, he argued, just don’t want to accept it.
“They keep coming up with this [argument], ‘The membership’s confused!’ That just doesn’t hold water,” he said. “It’s now been an entire year of them keeping their heads in the sand, hoping issue would go away.”
But Byron Nelson Jr., a tribal council member who’s running against Jackson for the office of tribal chairman, stood by his position that the legalization measure was worded improperly. While the title and text of the measure referred to a “repeal” of the tribe’s 20-year-old Marijuana Cultivation Suppression Ordinance, Title 34, the actual ballot question asked whether or not to “amend” the ordinance.
“I still think the people have to speak,” Nelson told the Outpost today. He was disappointed that the election board rejected the latest ballot referendum but not surprised. He said he suspected it had not been prepared properly.
Asked if he and his fellow council members would pursue a special election on the matter, Nelson said it’s an option, though he has yet to consult with his colleagues. But one thing’s certain.
“It’s not over yet,” he said. “It really isn’t over.”