When the U.S. Justice Department announced in December that it would not enforce federal marijuana laws on Native American lands, it presented the nation’s 566 recognized tribes with an economic opportunity. The very first one to get in on the action is, not surprisingly, from Mendocino County, California.
The 250-member Pinoleville Pomo Nation, just outside Ukiah, last month inked a deal with United Cannabis of Colorado and Kansas-based FoxBarry Farms to grow medical marijuana on the tribe’s rancheria.
The plan calls for a 2.5-acre indoor grow facility on Pomo Nation’s 90,000 acres, to be operational within a couple months. The deal gives FoxBarry—which earmarked $30 million for the project—exclusive distribution rights to United Cannabis brands in California. United, for its part, will consult on cultivation, harvesting, processing and sales of medical marijuana and edibles, and will pick up a cool $200,000 in advance royalties and 15% of net sales.
United’s chief operating officer, Chad Ruby, says his Colorado-based company has been looking west for some time. “California has the largest patient base in the nation and offers one of the best environments to cultivate organic sun-grown resin. After we were introduced to FoxBarry, we found a natural synergy with our technical ability and their financial resources and strong relationships with Native American tribes.”
Natural synergy notwithstanding, Ruby says the welcome mat has not been completely unfurled. “The initial challenge we are facing is the misperception that we are not going to be good citizens and care for the land and community we are doing business in.” Ameliorating this misperception, he says the company has reached out to local government officials at every level to discuss their plans.
“We are also concerned for the local growers and we don’t want to inhibit their ability to thrive. We understand there is a balance in this area and we don’t plan on being disruptive,” Ruby says. “Our greenhouse facility will be cutting edge with the latest technology to conserve water and power. The tribe has their own EPA and regulatory board to keep close watch on our operation. It’s rare to have an EPA office dedicated to watching a single facility, but we welcome their oversight.”
There has been some interest among other tribes to getting in on the new industry. Montana’s Fort Beck Tribes recently voted to legalize, and will be drafting applicable regulations by June 1. In Connecticut, the Mohegan Tribal Council is at least mulling herbal enterprises as a means of diversifying their Mohegan Sun Casino holdings. The United-FoxBarry partnership is also in negotiations with at least two other unnamed tribes in California.
Not all tribes are enthusiastic. The Hoopa Valley Tribe in California, Yakama Nation in Washington, and the Oglala Sioux tribe in South Dakota are among tribes that have expressed unwillingness, in one way or another, to join the green revolution.
It remains to be seen if Native American tribes will become a force in the fast-growing, lucrative new industry—and if the holdout tribes will choose to remain on the outside looking in.