Selling Marijuana on Tribal Lands, a Legal Gray Area

Indeed, not everyone here approves of the new businesses: The St. Regis tribal government maintains that the dispensaries are operating outside the laws of the reservation and robbing the tribe of critical revenue from licensing and sales fees, which underwrite essential services, including education, health care and public safety.

The internal strife on the reservation has grown so intense that tribal leaders have sued in tribal court, after giving the rogue dispensaries 48 hours to close or face being disqualified from any future licensure. The dispensaries have defiantly refused: More stores have opened, and many pot shops on the reservation are now posting signs on their doors warning that tribal compliance officers are not welcome and will be charged with trespassing.

Such posturing has done little to dissipate tension between tribal officials and the dispensaries.

“They’re thinking about themselves and not the overall community,” said Chief Ronald LaFrance Jr., one of three St. Regis chiefs, adding, “And that’s my concern, the lost revenue for the tribe.”

Marijuana is still illegal in the eyes of the U.S. government, but it has been legalized for adult recreational use in 18 states, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, and for medical use in more than 30. And in recent years, dispensaries have opened on tribal lands around the country, in states including Nevada, Washington and Michigan; in New York, the Shinnecock on Long Island are taking steps to get into the market, as are the Seneca on the state’s western flank.

For their part, the New York State authorities seem to be taking a hands-off approach to the early entrepreneurs on the St. Regis reservation, noting that such businesses are legal on federally recognized, sovereign tribal land.

With state regulations still far from being codified, and the tribal government unable thus far to stop the shops’ spread, the St. Regis dispensaries are operating both in a legal gray zone and with a sense of urgency seemingly not felt until recently in Albany.

Author: Sunny Dupree
Sunny Dupree is a seasoned journalist, keynote speaker and founder of Weed America: A Journalism-Minded Agency, which handles public relations, content marketing, social media, events and thought leadership for brands and executives in legal cannabis, hemp technology, alternative healthcare, and other new industries.