Tribe Explores Idea Of Growing, Distributing Medical Marijuana

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The Shinnecock Indian Nation is researching the feasibility of growing medical marijuana and distributing the drug from a facility that would be built on reservation land.

When the State Legislature passed the Compassionate Care Act last year, allowing health care providers to prescribe certain forms of medical marijuana to patients with serious medical issues, Tribal Trustee Chairman Bryan Polite said Shinnecock leaders realized that the production of the drug could generate some much-needed revenue for them. Earlier attempts to generate revenue for the tribe, including an ambitious plan to construct a gaming facility, have come up short.

During an interview this week, Mr. Polite declined to elaborate on the prospect of the Shinnecocks possibly growing medical marijuana and then dispensing the drug. He also declined to say how such an undertaking would be funded by the tribe, or how long it will be until leaders make a decision.

Instead, he would only say that the idea has struck a chord with tribal leaders as they begin to investigate what the new legislation could mean for them and other sovereign Native American nations.

According to State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., the tribe would have to comply with both state and federal laws if it wishes to pursue such an endeavor. “I can say that the state regulations are really tight compared to other states,” Mr. Thiele said of New York’s laws.

He added that he has not yet received much information regarding specific plans being investigated by the Shinnecocks.

A tribal source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the tribe is only in the early stages of considering the project, explained that the initiative, if pursued, would be a “medical cannabis program on tribal lands to the extent that the program is consistent with [state] public policy regarding the civil regulation of medical marijuana.”

The source added that the plan is to construct a secure indoor facility on the reservation, one that would be protected by paid guards from a “top-notch” security firm who would work around the clock. The facility would boast an advanced security system that features a virtual fence that can detect motion around the perimeter of the building.

Additional security features, according to the same source, would include a security gate at the facility’s entrance, access control panels that would be installed on every door, and a two-tier identification system requiring that employees punch in a PIN number while the system reviews their biometrics before they are allowed to enter the facility.

The entire property would be surrounded by two 8-foot-tall security fences, the source added.

A federal memorandum, called the Cole Memorandum, was made public in December and its intent is to explain how the legalization of marijuana in many states affects Native American tribes that wish to establish medical marijuana programs in those states. There are restrictions that they must follow on the federal level, including preventing the distribution of the drug to minors and ensuring that revenue from future marijuana sales do not go to criminal enterprises, such as gangs, among others.

The memo reads: “The eight priorities in the Cole Memorandum will guide United States Attorneys’ marijuana enforcement efforts in Indian Country, including in the event that sovereign Indian Nations seek to legalize the cultivation or use of marijuana in Indian Country.”

In a statement last week, Mr. Polite said the Shinnecock Indian Nation is “constantly exploring various economic development initiatives” that could help improve the lives of those who live on the reservation. “Since the Compassionate Care Act became law last year, our tribal leaders—like many others—have sought counsel from the U.S. Department of Justice and the State of New York on what this means for a sovereign nation like ours. We are continuing to gather information as part of that exploratory process.

“No decisions have been made, nor will they be, without the input and approval of the Shinnecock Indian Nation membership,” he added.

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