Puyallup delegates discuss cannabis, jobs and more in D.C.

Chairman Sterud shakes the hand of Sen. Maria Cantwell.

Puyallup Tribal Chairman Bill Sterud and Councilman David Bean returned from Washington, D.C. in late March after very successful meetings with members of congress on a host of issues. Joining the Tribal Council delegates were Rich Able, CEO of Puyallup Tribal Cannabis Enterprises, and tribal lobbyists Ehren Flygare, Tim Thompson and former congressman Norm Dicks.

Also in D.C. at this time were Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman; Suquamish Councilwoman Robin Little Wing Sigo; Washington State Cannabis Regulatory and Enforcement staff; Washington Cannabis Association; and Alaska Cannabis Association.

“We went there as one unified voice,” David Bean said, with the goal to protect the cannabis industry from federal interference in states that have made it legal. “In 2.5 days of meetings, we logged 17 miles of walking from the U.S. Capitol to the House and Senate office buildings telling our stories and sharing our legislative priorities.”

Councilman Bean said the timing was significant to be present in D.C. at this time, as congress was on the cusp of passing its omnibus spending bill, which packages many of the smaller appropriations bills into one larger single bill. For the Washington State visitors, protecting our state, and others where cannabis is medically legal, from federal interference was a top priority.

“We were there to make sure they protect the tribes that reside in states where it’s legal and have passed laws to legalize and regulate it,” David Bean said. “We let them know how it’s benefitted our communities and how we’re utilizing this resource to tackle a variety of problems. In our state, the tax dollars are being used to help lower income folks with their medical insurance and the Puyallup Tribe is using the funds to re-invest in our community and to use cannabis as an off-ramp from addictive drugs and medications.”

Chairman Sterud considers this trip to D.C. one of the better D.C. trips he’s made, and he has made many.

“It went really well and we had some very good discussions,” he said, noting that he got plenty of opportunities to tell congress members about the Puyallup Tribe’s state-of-the-art cannabis testing lab, Medicine Creek Analytics, and the Tribe’s Salish Cancer Center. He also got to have a nice chat with Sen. Elizabeth Warren. “She was very excited about how tribes are setting up different programs for cannabis as a medical cure for many things. She is very enthusiastic about the Puyallup Tribe doing this with our own money so we have a good supporter in her.”

Rich Able came back feeling very good about the visit as well. “It was phenomenal,” he said. “The influence that the Chairman and our Tribe have on legislators back there is highly impactful and meaningful and they listen.”

Councilman Bean said he is pleased that the Puyallup tribal delegation was able to talk about their personal stories related to cannabis as medicine. For example, David Bean’s wife Kelly suffers from autoimmune deficiency and he told of how prescription medications and over-the-counter remedies aggravated her joint pain more than helped it. “We saw a great benefit from utilizing cannabis as a remedy,” he said. “We got to share these very personal stories with our lawmakers – the folks who have the ability to prevent the Department of Justice from using their enforcement dollars in our state.”

Rich Able said he sees Republicans and Democrats lining up on both sides of the aisle saying that the herb is a plant and that it’s good for many things, especially the medicinal side.

“I mean, when you have conservative congressmen like Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) using marijuana salve on his arthritic shoulder and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) asking for legalization, it’s great to see the transcending coming together on both sides of the aisle,” Rich said.

Besides the medicinal qualities of cannabis, its power to generate revenue is also important to the Tribe in that cannabis has a direct impact on the Tribe’s economic development and growing that tax base to expand services to members, including programs to curb opioid addiction.

“Cannabis revenues help tribal members who need it to get off opioids and addictive medications that destroy people. It pays for programs for our folks to get well,” David Bean said.

One thing that the Puyallup governmental representatives are always sure to do while in D.C. is to talk to members on both sides of the aisle – Democrats and Republicans. As part of this trip, it just so happened that it was the week that the Republican National Congressional Campaign was highlighting their efforts in Native American communities. “So we met with a variety of Republican congressional representatives and staff members to talk about a variety of issues,” said Councilman Bean. This provided the perfect opportunity to discuss the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act.

Basically, the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act seeks government parity to treat tribal nations as sovereign governments that can implement their own labor laws. It is in response to the National Labor Relations Board deciding about 12 years ago that it would begin exercising jurisdiction on tribal lands after 70-plus years of treating tribes as sovereign nations.

“That is very important to us,” he said. “We make investments with those who share our values, so we wanted to get that message out to (members of congress) that sovereignty is very important to us, whether we’re talking to Democrats or Republicans.”