Native Americans want to enter the cannabis industry


“Cannabis is part of Mother Earth”

It all began in February 2015, at the Tulalip Resort Casino north of Seattle. Surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscapes in North America, “the pot summit” was taking place. Different representatives from the Indian tribes got together to talk about the cannabis industry in the reservations. Few months before the Justice Department had opened a door for tribal cannabis as a way to recognize their sovereignty.

The meeting was, officially, a legal education conference. There were lawyers, entrepreneurs and, of course, tribe officials. These ones didn’t talk too much. Basically they declared that they had a relationship with cannabis since marijuana is a medicine from Mother Earth and, therefore, perfectly adjustable with their relationship with the nature. In fact, they paid more than $500 for a lunch and a name tag that allowed them to study what cannabis legalization could mean for the Indian community.

Both lawyers and politicians talked about the different state and federal laws of cannabis legalization. Tribal leaders were especially interested about the ways tribal cannabis growing could become a new way to get more incomes for them and the possibility to create a new cannabis tribal industry. In other words, they were studying the potential opportunities to grow and develop a tribal cannabis chain of businesses according to their especial legal status.

So far, the Indians are investing in tobacco shops, casinos, tourism, fireworks industry and little more. Do tribes want to enhance and change this model of economy?

For many years, reservations have been a place where Indians went to survive. Most Indians considered reservations simple prisons given to them by the new American invaders while they robbed their lands and properties. Once the society became more “human”, they were given especial permits to run casinos, sell fireworks and few else. But the money obtained from the casinos did not benefit the whole Indian community. Most of them continued surviving without incomes enough to live a good life.

But today the concept of reservation is changing. It is true that they have the highest rates of unemployment. But, at least, the reservations are becoming more than a place where Indians can live their traditional way of living; they could become a new tribal business too.

Marijuana industry among Indians has a father: the casino; an opportunity that has had an enormous impact on their economy and lives for the last 50 years. In fact, many tribes refer to their time with the terms “BC” and “AC”. These terms don’t mean “before Christ and after Christ. They mean before casino and after casino.

The incomes from casinos grew from $100m in 1988 to $26bn in 2009. However, the gaming brought wealth to few while the rest continued being poor. The Tulalip meeting allowed the Indians to discover cannabis as a new opportunity for many people.

Soon after the “cannabis conference” many Indians began to study everything related to legal cannabis: medical and recreational marijuana and more. And there are many who want to start their own businesses. But not only opening dispensaries; they want the whole thing: dispensaries, growing and processing. The tribes want it. Indians did a survey and almost 80% of tribe members said yes to enter the cannabis industry according to the state rules. More than 52% wanted only medical marijuana businesses and 25% wanted the recreational pot to be legal too.

Even though the cannabis industry started in a very shy way at Tulalip, nobody knows the way it will continue. Some Indians think it shouldn’t be a tribal question although individuals can participate. Other Indians want to take advantages of their Indian especial status in order to avoid state taxes as possible. The main question is the way the different tribes will benefit from the cannabis market. Will all the members benefit from it or just a bunch of leaders?

As it happens in most reservations, tribal enterprise is being controlled by few members of the community who grew up together in small communities. And these people could take decisions based on personal reasons. But the truth is that everyday more Indian entrepreneurs want to use their sovereignty to start cannabis businesses. Many are starting to consider opening clinics that use cannabis extracts. Many Indians say they can do it better than any pharmaceutical company that operates out of the reservation. They got in contact with Bastyr University and they were told that no pharmaceutical company in the USA was working on that direction.

In early February, 2019, in rural San Diego County (Ca), a building that was a casino before, became a shop that sells marijuana flowers and infused truffles. The Lipany Nation of Santa Ysabel opened this shop, named Mountain Source, after the casino failed. A part of the old casino will be used for cannabis testing and to prepare cannabis edibles. Near the shop there are two acres full of cannabis greenhouses and they are preparing more places for cultivation.

The tribe enters the marijuana business in order to find a good way to stay economically alive because it could save many people from poverty. However, tribes are allowed to grow and sell their marijuana on their reservation, but there is no way for them to join the market out of their land. In other words: tribes remain off from the much bigger industry that is happening in the whole USA. They can sell only in their county. That is why the “pot summit” was so important. Will the federal laws allow Indian Native Americans to leave their reservation and create more opportunities than casinos to get wealth?

Even though there are many different tribes and each one has its own culture, there are evidences that show marijuana was consumed by Native American Indians who knew the medical properties of the plant.

Native American Indians are deeply studying the many benefits of cannabis and, who knows, maybe soon they will be running other businesses in addition to casinos and, what is more important, selling their products in the whole country. The first tribal pharmaceutical company could be soon a real fact.

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