American Indians are proud of their heritage and the 'powwow' is the most popular way for Native Americans to socialize, sing, share stories and dance. But if one innovative medical cannabis company has its way, the powwow could be a place to share some weed as well.
The largest of these, the super bowl' of powwows, if you will, takes place annually in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and is known as the Gathering of Nations.
Attended by hundreds of tribes and thousands of people, the Gathering is differentiated from traditional powwows in that it is a commercial and competitive athletic event with thousands in prize money offered to winners of dance competitions.
The Arizona-based medical cannabis company UltraHealth believes this could be an ideal environment for them to establish their brand, and they have signed a five-year contract to sponsor the Gathering. This has earned the event the nickname pot powwow.
The importance of pot powwow
Tribal nations, for decades, have been mired in poverty and high rates of unemployment. It is no surprise that the tribes are eyeing cannabis as a way to reverse this dismal reality, and they have a green light from the federal government to do just that. The Justice Department, in 2014, made it legal for some tribal nations to grow and sell marijuana.
The CEO of UltraHealth, Duke Rodriguez, envisions marijuana cultivation and distribution on Indian land across the entire country. Speaking to Vice, Rodriquez commented:
"We recognized from day one that if anybody's going to positively utilize cannabis in this country, it's native people.
They have many competitive advantages – they own land, they have water and access to power, and they have a historical and cultural tie to cannabis and natural healing."
The idea, of course, has its detractors. Native Wellness Institute board member Theda Newbreast compares the tactics of encroaching cannabis companies with those found in tobacco and alcohol industries, telling the Atlantic:
"The beer companies used to bring candies wrapped in their logos to our reservations and pass them out to kids, and the tobacco companies tossed out candy cigarettes at our parades."
Marijuana may have its drawbacks, but the outright negation of cannabis through comparisons with more harmful drugs, like alcohol and tobacco, is misleading. The numbers speak for themselves.
A way out of opioid addiction for tribes?
Excessive alcohol use leads to on average 88,000 deaths per year in America. Tobacco use causes more than 480,000 deaths annually. And now for the big reveal: how many deaths are caused by cannabis overdose each year? A big fat zero.
It is a disturbing reality that Native American populations experience the highest rates of substance abuse in America. Rampant unemployment and poverty have led many to addiction and an out-of-control opioid epidemic.
But here too, cannabis can be a boon. Aside from its countless medical benefits, the use of hemp could curb addiction to life-threatening pain pills. "Medical cannabis," Rodriguez says, "could be a way out of opioid addiction for tribes."
Another good reason to put aside our differences with hemp, and smoke the peace pipe.