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Published: Aug 7, 2021

Written by: Brendan Murphy


Mohawk Tribe May Be First to Offer Legal Cannabis to Adults in New York

A dispensary operating on St. Regis Mohawk Tribe territory. June 23, 2021


Life is shaping up for one Native American tribe in New York State. The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe became the first to legalize recreational marijuana use as of June 28, 2021. The Tribe dwells on a reservation near the Canadian border in the town of Akwesasne, New York, where gaming and casinos are prominent.

The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe submitted a new tribal ordinance that allows their members to operate adult-use marijuana businesses. It is a big step for Native Americans, and the first of its kind in New York State. The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and its council mentioned to several radio stations that they will be licensing their own cannabis companies to individual Tribe members (versus creating businesses that are tribally owned).

It’s a win-win for all involved, as this new ordinance was made on the heels of a popular tribal vote that was conducted in 2019, where members gave the green light for recreational marijuana businesses to launch. However, progress on these operations was halted until the process of growing and selling adult-use cannabis was legalized in the state of New York, which didn’t occur until March 2021.
The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe spent the better part of 2019 and 2020 working diligently on industry regulations to ensure product quality assurance. Even though the Tribe has received the go-ahead with cannabis operations, fully legitimate retail operators have yet to open their doors, mainly due to logistics and ensuring all bases within their businesses are covered. However, some sellers became a bit too antsy and started selling adult-use cannabis, which prompted the Mohawk Tribe to file a civil action lawsuit.

As the Tribal Court got wind of some shady businesses, they issued a warning to these seven illegal cannabis operators and asked that their businesses close their doors and be fined for each day they violated the cease-and-desist orders, which began on July 1st. If these businesses failed to close by this date, the St. Regis Mohawk ordinance – who legalizes the recreational industry – can forbid these early purveyors from entering the legal marijuana market in the future.

What is so striking about the new ordinance passage is that adults 21 years or older in the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe are now allowed to grow up to 12 plants at their own residence, also establishing a multi-step licensing procedure for not only growing, but processing and selling recreational marijuana to the public. Since the regulations went into effect in late June, there have been around 24 applications submitted to begin a growing and selling business of cannabis.

The Tribal Chiefs are elated with the interest, yet continue to show disdain towards those members who are jumping the gun and getting their operations up and running on the U.S. side of Akwesasne. They are emphatic for those who don’t comply before July 1st, as they will face the Tribal Court action and these illegal operators won’t be able to apply for a legal license to grow and sell cannabis at all.
Because the Tribe has expressed their appreciation to entrepreneurs who have been patient enough to ensure the regulations are completed in a responsible manner with community input, approved and tested cannabis products will now be available at tribally-licensed stores. Customers can trust these businesses and operators as being a safe haven to purchase marijuana that is regulated in a socially responsible manner.

Dubbed a “seed to sale” process, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe continues to support the tribal member entrepreneurs in their community, as they want to help develop the cannabis industry for the benefit of the Native American community. Instead of keeping it a tribally-owned business, the Mohawks chose a different path altogether and it’s paying off. The entire growing, processing, and sale of adult-use recreational marijuana is conducted all on tribal territory.

Today, the licensing, testing, and fee collection of these tribal cannabis businesses are under the authority of a newly-established Tribal Cannabis Exchange, whereby this includes a Compliance Office supervised by a 5-person Tribal Cannabis Board.


Suggested Readings:

St Regis Mohawk Tribe adopts adult-use cannabis ordinance

Northern NY Indian tribe on track to open state’s first legal marijuana shops

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Brendan Murphy

Brendan Murphy is the assistant editor of CannaBuff Magazine. He graduated from the University at Buffalo in 2020. Brendan also serves as an editorial assistant for MedPage Today.