A short 35-minute trip to the Seneca Nation territory will tell you one thing: cannabis entrepreneurs have a massive head start.
Back in March, former Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act into law. Nine months since its passing, regulations remain unclear and delayed. The Office of Cannabis Management has yet to give out licenses, and sales aren’t expected to begin until 2023. Additionally, the rules for medicinal, homegrown cannabis aren’t determined, something that the MRTA set to be ready by Sept. 31.
On the reservation, entrepreneurs are skipping the inefficiencies of licensing and opening up their own “mom and pot” shops. According to guidance from the Office of Cannabis Management, cannabis sales on federally-recognized tribal lands remain legal.
“We have a board here, but it doesn’t prohibit anybody from engaging in the business right now,” said Mike, part-owner of 420 Rez Bud, a newly-opened tribal dispensary in the WNY area. “Nobody really gets shut down around here that is operating fully-cannabis.”
Upon entry, there are a myriad of cannabis products for sale: plants, whole-flower, seeds, edibles, concentrates, and for the holidays, themed gift baskets.
Mike says that customers are the central focus of the experience. Equipped with a 24-hour drive-thru and a BOCES-certified edible chef on staff, 420 Rez Bud is not your average microbusiness.
“We have fresh brownies made by a student who went through the BOCES program, and is food-certified through the Indian Health Services (IHS),” he said of their in-house edibles. “So that’s another interesting locally-made product on the territory.”
“We have a craft cannabis menu with quality, premium bud, where we test and verify all of our products before we put them on the shelf.”
Most tribal dispensaries in the Western New York market aren’t taking extra steps to make sure all products are tested, something that is increasingly important as legalization comes to every county in New York.
“That’s a big thing in this industry [testing], especially with the non regulated markets, right, especially when you’re in a city that doesn’t have a dispensary,” Mike said. “People have anything that they can basically pull together and put on the shelves or in their backpack.”
Mike says that he tries to help local growers improve their craft and create a platform for those already in the industry to get their plants out there. “We ask for the COA (Certificate of Analysis), the test results and the details surrounding it. It’s like our vetting process to make sure we maintain quality,” he said.
Rigorous testing standards like this are not often seen in the developing industry on the reservation, yet provide a necessary safeguard against potentially life-threatening hazards.
“We have people that come in with COPD and they come here because they went to other places and were like ‘I smoke their product and it made me cough, it made me sick.’”
“We’re trying to differentiate ourselves from everybody else. New York State for one, they don’t share any information with you about their test results,” Mike said of the available cannabis in the New York State medical program. “We’re already doing more than them by providing strain genetics and information about how it was grown, and if they want to know who it is grown by we know who they are and we have files for everything,” he said.
Mike foresees a future filled with an array of creative endeavors.
They already offer promotional shopping days, and discounts for veterans or medical card carriers. As a patient in New York’s medical program himself, Mike saw a need to use his platform to give access.
“If anybody wears Bill’s stuff in, they get discounts on Bill’s day or anytime they’re playing a game,” he said of available promotions. “Basically, try to help people out and give them an affordable option because the New York State market was giving me substandard care, grinding my flower before I could take it home, and they have really expensive carts that are cost prohibitive to most patients.”
On December 1st, 420 Rez Bud launched their membership program. “You have an account set up with us so you have a loyalty member card and for every dollar you spend we have a multiplier effect based on the day of the week or anything that we decide for promotions,” Mike said.
Aside from cheaper prices and rewards, members also have access to a rosin press, where they can bring in their own cannabis and have it pressed into a concentrate on-the-spot.
“It’s a simple service for our members that we offer, as a perk,” he said. “We’re the only cannabis dispensary that’s even offering memberships and promotional discounts and access to, you know, more affordable products and more affordable premiums.”
420 Rez Bud is busy thinking up new ways to engage with the community as a cannabis startup. One such idea involves cryptocurrency.
“There’s a Bitcoin ATM actually down the road. So I was like, oh, there’s already a Bitcoin ATM that you can withdraw from, but you can’t deposit into…We’re going to have a two-way terminal here. So you could access Bitcoin and any cryptos that you can convert in your wallet,” he said.
Another idea involves wheels.
“We’re actually working on getting a mobile dispensary next,” Mike said. “We have a food truck that we’re converting into a dispensary, I might call it Miss Daisy, or something like that, just something fun and nice to see around.”
The dispensary space is filled with culture and sells artwork from the surrounding native communities. Across the walls, Mike’s mother displays a hand-beaded pot leaf and watercolor warhorse paintings. Another artist uses deer antlers to make pipes with a wampum belt. Tuscarora Woodworks showcase their craftsmanship through engraved wooden coasters for sale by the register. In the future, Mike hopes to expand the square footage of the store to include, “Someplace where you have more of an experience and you could sit down or have someplace to meander and have something to look at and be entertained while you’re waiting to find your selection.”
Above all else, he sees the business as a way to “recycle the dollars” in the local community.
“Cannabis, and I’ve been noticing this, is a catalyst for other businesses,” Mike said. “Here, the business across the way is doing a lot better because of us and we are doing good because of them. Others said their restaurant picked up or they did more in gas.”
As he sets his sights on the future, Mike hopes consumers follow his advice.
“I would say for the cannabis industry specifically, support the small guys.”
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