Native American Tribes Capitalize on Cannabis

Native American tribes in Nevada are expanding beyond casinos and venturing into the cannabis industry. In June, Governor Brian Sandoval signed Senate Bill 375 and Senate Bill 396, which allow Nevada’s Native American tribes to directly negotiate with the state over the use and sale of medicinal marijuana on tribal lands.

Nevada Native American tribes like the Yerington Paiute Tribe, the Ely Shoshone Tribe, and the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe formed an agreement with the State of Nevada that allows them to grow cannabis, produce concentrates and edibles, perform lab-testing, and dispense marijuana products to customers.

In 2016, the Las Vegas Paiute held a ceremony on Snow Mountain Indian Reserve to bless the site of one of the largest medical marijuana cultivation and production facilities in Nevada with at least two dispensaries and three greenhouses on a 15,000-square foot facility that will be called the Nu Wu Cannabis Marketplace.

While the Nevada government enacts hefty taxes on marijuana sales, some Native American tribes are looking to amend tribal laws that may lead to tax-free cannabis. How is this possible? The U.S. Supreme court recognizes tribal sovereignty, which allows the Native American people to self-govern. Though individuals are responsible for federal income taxes as U.S. citizens, tribes are not subject to federal income taxes on their earnings and can form business corporations to keep their income exempt.

Tribal Cannabis Consulting (TCC) specializes in Native American cannabis policy and established the first cannabis compact, which allowed tribal and state governments to establish business agreements signed by Nevada’s governor. The firm aims to expand Native American economic presence in the marijuana marketplace and helps tribes create their own regulatory codes for matters like issuing medical marijuana cards.

Together, tribes and the state government are working to develop a governing system that will outline and enforce marijuana cultivation and sale on Native American Land and establish a universal agreement that will keep dispensaries in accordance with their state and federal laws.

“Our ancestors used it before as medicine,” said Benny Tso, chairman of the Las Vegas Paiute council. “The Paiute people are about helping other people, so this medicine that we’re going to provide for Nevada is going to be truly a blessing for both for Nevada and the tribe.”

Native American tribes have seen success in other states when it comes to selling cannabis on tribal land. In Washington, two tribes have been operating shops successfully for years. The Squamish Tribe opened Agate Dreams in December 2015 and the Squaxin Island Tribe’s Elevation dispensary has been serving cannabis customers since November of the same year.

Both tribes worked closely with the State of Washington and the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board to ensure compliance with state regulations. They entered into a ten-year compact that allows them to charge non-Native customers the same tax rate as the rest of the state. The tax revenue collected remains the property of the Tribe.

In California, however, Native American Tribes in the northern part of the state have encountered difficulties.

The Pinoleville Pomo Nation announced plans for a large-scale medical marijuana cultivation operation in 2015. Shortly after the operation was up and running, the Mendocino Sheriff’s Office conducted a raid on the property, removing nearly 100 pounds of dried flower and hundreds of plants.

In 2016, the Tribe filed a claim against the county alleging unreasonable search and seizure, trespassing, and violations of the Tribe’s due process. Also in 2016, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department raided the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians, removing more than 800 plants from their property. They filed a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office earlier this year requesting $25,000 in damages.

In Southern California, the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel is seeing better success after converting a former casino into a 35,000-square-foot cultivation facility.

In 2015, tribal leaders began to slowly craft marijuana regulations for the reservation. The Santa Isabel Regulatory Agency and Cannabis Commission oversee the tribe’s cannabis venture. Their high-tech facility includes a testing lab, greenhouses, and space to expand into processing.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department released a statement saying the agency was not responsible for enforcing laws within the Iipay Nation and the San Diego District Attorney’s Office told the San Diego Union-Tribune in May that the tribe has been advised it would intervene only if state laws are broken within their jurisdiction. writers Suzy Nguyen and Lesley Nickus contributed to this report.

Photo courtesy of Tomás Del Coro


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