Indigenous nations in North America argue that they have the right to legalize cannabis and develop a regulated industry without approval from federal or state governments. The communities have indigenous sovereignty, so they shouldn’t face many legal issues. Legalizing cannabis sales would be similar to allowing gambling establishments in indigenous nations.
Groups in Long Island are testing this legal concept. So far, it looks like they will succeed.
Shinnecock Nation Eyes Opportunities in Long Island
The Shinnecock Nation sits at the eastern end of Long Island. Historically, the people who live there speak Algonquian, although their proximity to federal U.S. and state of New York lands makes speaking English necessary. Recently, the indigenous nation has discussed openly legal cannabis dispensaries.
The motivation to open cannabis dispensaries on indigenous land primarily comes from New York’s struggle to implement regulations and approve licenses throughout the state. Two years after passing recreational cannabis, the state didn’t have any dispensaries licensed for recreational sales.
Members of the Shinnecock Nation grew tired of waiting for the state to catch up, so they decided to open a dispensary and wellness lounge in the Hamptons. The nation decided to put legalization to a vote. Members overwhelmingly voiced their approval. Only 30 voters disapproved, while 114 wanted to pursue legalization.
This vote created a tribally chartered company called Little Beach Harvest. Little Beach Harvest in Southampton is under construction and should open in early 2023. The location has an impressive design where professionals can cultivate, process, and sell cannabis. It’s a two-story building with a drive-through and wellness lounge.
A second vote didn’t have nearly as much pro-cannabis enthusiasm as the first. This decision would make it acceptable for members of the nation to start cannabis enterprises. It passed with 94 in approval and 50 against. The vote also authorizes the Shinnecock Nation to create a Shinnecock Cannabis Regulatory Division and build a regulatory framework.
Cannabis Could Become an Economic Generator
Shinnecock Nation sees cannabis as an opportunity for its people to attract revenues from nearby communities. Although located just minutes from Southampton’s business district, few people visit Shinnecock lands.
Establishing Long Island’s first cannabis dispensary would certainly bring more Long Islanders to the Shinnecock Nation.
Economic planners don’t envision the dispensary as an endgame. They’re actively recruiting business opportunities that will bring more stores to the area. They want Little Beach Harvest to become a magnet that attracts consumers. Once there, people will continue shopping at Shinnecock establishments. The area could become a retail destination.
The Iroquois Confederacy Members Consider Similar Options
The Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy have traditional lands that cover much of Upstate New York. Nations that participate in the Confederacy include:
Some of these nations have lands in the most underdeveloped regions of Upstate New York.
A few nations already had unlicensed dispensaries operating on their lands. Not all nations approved this behavior, however. For example, the Cayuga Nation Police Department raided the Pipekeepers Tobacco & Gas store in Seneca Falls. Now, they can take a more regulated approach that ensures quality and shared revenues.
Tribal Nations operate independently of the U.S. government. They can, however, operate only on lands recognized by U.S. authorities. So far, New York has decided to recognize their sovereignty and let them establish their own cannabis rules.
Indigenous Nations Fill a Gap New York Created
Many indigenous nations within New York State started pursuing cannabis dispensaries because the state took such a long time to build an infrastructure and approve licenses. The state was clearly ready for legalized recreational cannabis. Yet, New York authorities failed to meet demand. Indigenous nations simply stepped in to fill the gap created by New York.
Could similar moves happen in other indigenous nations? So far, most seem satisfied with doing what they want without much U.S. government intrusion. In other words, they might allow members to grow and use cannabis without restrictions. They have not, however, built infrastructures and stores that would attract people from outside their borders.
Depending on how well states react to the concerns of their residents, more independent nations could decide they want to take advantage of the situation. The plan seems simple enough: Establish a legal dispensary that attracts visitors. Then, build retail stores around the dispensary to collect more money from those visitors. The approach could work well for everyone, except perhaps the states that refuse to recognize the overwhelming approval for cannabis legalization.