Northern NY Indian Tribe To Open First Legal Dispensaries

St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, an Indian tribe, will launch the first legal marijuana shops in Northern New York, potentially bringing at least one year non-Indian weed retailers.

The state’s first legal cannabis sales may be in the St. Regis Mohawk (Akwesasne), located near Hogansburg in Franklin County, along the border between the United States and Canada. The Mohawks are New York’s first Native American nation to make such a move, even though a tribe in Long Island is working on it.

New York State legalized adult-use cannabis on April 1. The law allows people over 21 years of age to have up to three ounces of marijuana. However, until the agency and the control board write the regulations, the government cannot issue licenses to companies, including retailers. This process is at a standstill.

The St. Regis Mohawks adopted their own tribal law legalizing marijuana for adult leisure use late last month. By establishing rules governing the production and treatment of marijuana and the licensing of retail stores, the order transcended state law. Everything from “seed to sale” on tribal territory must take place.

The Mohawk Tribe’s plan is not to run the business itself but to license tribal entrepreneurs.

Mohawk Tribe Gets Multiple Cannabis License Claims

More than a dozen submissions for cannabis licenses have already been received by the Tribal Council, which will be reviewed and issued by a tribal cannabis control board. However, no claims were given yet, and the tribe has not announced a schedule. In the meantime, Mohawks are taking legal action to shut down unlicensed marijuana shops on the US side of Akwesasne.

The tribe has recognized that its permitted cannabis companies could operate ahead of the state under tight controls to ensure security and generate licensing charges.

According to the statement published by the tribe, they want to make sure that their community can support local entrepreneur work to diversify their local economy and support community programming and services through tribal licensing charges.

But the state isn’t at that step yet.

The New York Legislature closed its official 2021 session in June without receiving nominations from the Governor’s Office, acting on nominations to the Cannabis Control Board, or hiring staff for the new cannabis management office. Unless legislation holds a special session later this year, licensing could be extended to late 2022 or 2023.

Cannabis-focused Harris Beach law firm attorney Karl Sleight says the St. Regis Mohawks’ action could put pressure on the lawmakers to reconvene. However, some lawmakers say that progress has been made.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a year or two before the state issues licenses,” said Sleight. “There’s the likelihood of a special session in the near future, and the state could make those appointments.”

Sleight says failing to move ahead on the issue “doesn’t reflect well on the state.” He also said that they might lose ground compared to other states and tribal businesses in the emerging cannabis industry.

First Native American Tribe To Pass Pot Law

The Mohawks are the first Native American nation to adopt its own cannabis legislation in New York. But, the Long Island Shinnecock Indian Nation has announced plans to begin cannabis sales sometime this year.

Both are ahead of other Indian nations in New York.

The Onondaga nation near Syracuse will not permit marijuana companies on its territory, the general counsel of the country, Joe Heath said. Vice President for Communications Joel Barkin says the Oneida Indian Nation, which covers Oneida and Madison counties, will continue to review this issue, but has not decided.

The Seneca Nation of Indians, which has previously indicated that it would be interested in carrying out the cannabis business, has not announced its plans. Neither has the Cayuga Nation, located in the Finger Lakes.

Indian nations’ ability to lay down their own rules and laws depends on their sovereign status. Countries like the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe are recognized federally.

Sleight notes that the situation is complicated because cannabis is still federally illegal and cannot be transported across state or international borders.

However, once shops in St. Regis Mohawk are open, some New Yorkers will go to the territory to buy cannabis.

Sleight advises potential customers to remember the new law’s details, including the personal ownership limit. Also, laws still exist that prohibit the sale and distribution of larger quantities.

The lawyer considered it as “an issue of quantity” that the tribe has to deal with. He stated that the main problem occurs if you are on native soil and have more than three ounces. The lawyer also said that if the same situation happens in New York, “it doesn’t matter where you got it.”

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