Casinos to cannabis: Native Americans move into pot business

Fri Feb 6, 2015 8:08pm EST
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By Mary Papenfuss

UKIAH, Calif. (Reuters) - A damp plot of bright green grass next to a Native American greenhouse in northern California doesn't look like much, but it could soon set the burgeoning marijuana industry on fire.

An initial, 10,000-square-foot state-of-the art greenhouse is due to be erected within weeks on the land in Ukiah owned by the 250-member Pinoleville Pomo Nation, about 140 miles north of Sacramento. It's the initial phase of a joint marijuana production and processing venture believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.

The endeavor, launched after a U.S. Department of Justice memo largely cleared the way for such enterprises, is expected to trigger similar ventures to bring cannabis cash to Native Americans, like the windfalls from tribal casinos and tax-free cigarettes sales.

But the new opportunity has sparked controversy as tribes struggle with concerns about historically high rates of substance abuse.

“It’s going to be up to each Indian nation to decide whether this is a tremendous economic opportunity or something to be feared,” said lawyer Robert Odawi Porter, an expert on tribal law and former president of the Seneca Nation of New York. “But one thing is certain. Everyone is talking about it.”

“Alcohol has ravaged Indian communities. It stares us in the face every day,” said Porter. “Now we’ve got to carefully examine the impact of marijuana.”

Pomo tribal leaders are cautiously optimistic about their venture with FoxBarry Farms of Kansas and the United Cannabis Corp (UCANN), of Colorado. They want to avoid a clash with law enforcement or neighbors, but are eager for a new source of income and support medical marijuana.

“We have a history of using plants for medicine,” Pomo Tribal Council Vice Chairwoman Angela James told Reuters. “The tribe is seeking economic development, and we’re comfortable with these partners and this product.”   Continued...

Signs are seen at an entrance to a field on land owned by the 250-member Pinoleville Pomo Nation in Ukiah, California January 23, 2015.  REUTERS/Robert Galbraith