Nevada’s Indian tribes deal with the business of selling pot
January 8, 2018
RENO, Nev. — The opening of Nevada's first Tribal-owned marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas may be a harbinger of new business opportunities for many of Nevada's Indian tribes, but don't expect to see shops on lands operated by the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony anytime soon.
The 15,000-square-foot Nu Wu Cannabis Marketplace opened its doors in September in Southern Nevada. The impressive, ultra-modern facility looks more like a new Apple store than a place to buy marijuana products and paraphernalia — it's even got a drive-through window.
NuWu Cannabis Marketplace is owned and operated by the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe and is part of the Tribe's overarching plans to help make Las Vegas an international marijuana destination.
The dispensary on Tribal lands is the culmination of compacts signed between Nevada's Indian Tribes and the state under Senate Bill 375, which was passed during the 2017 legislative session.
SB 375 authorizes the state to enter into agreements with the state's Indian Tribes to coordinate administration and regulation for the sale and use of marijuana on Tribal lands.
John Oceguera, senior vice president of Nevada operations for Strategies 360, a public affairs and communications firm that represents the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, says that operation of facilities such as NuWu Cannabis Marketplace are overseen by the LVPT; however, the Tribe partnered with the state and other local agencies to ensure Tribal dispensaries adhere to the same guidelines and standards as privately run marijuana dispensaries in Nevada.
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"It is really important to adhere to the guidelines that the state has put out; that is part of the reason we went into compacts with the state," says Oceguera, a member of the Walker River Paiute Tribe. "The state has signed four or five compacts with different Tribes that will work with Nevada at the same time protecting the sovereign nation (status) that all these tribes (have)."
One major difference between privately owned facilities and those on Tribal lands, however, is that all revenue from sales at facilities such as NuWu Cannabis Marketplace are retained by their respective tribes. The Las Vegas Paiute Tribe also taxes marijuana sales at the state sales tax rate, but sales tax revenue also stays with the LVPT.
Oceguera says some Tribes that have signed compacts with the state may decide to share a portion of sales tax revenue with the state; however, that's a voluntary decision for each tribe.
"It is important to note that those revenues go to provide services to Tribal members," Oceguera says. "People don't realize that Tribes have everything that local governments have, including their own police, fire and public works departments, as well as road maintenance and health care. In Reno-Sparks, they (Reno-Sparks Indian Colony) provide health care to more than 8,000 urban Indians in the Reno-Sparks area.
There are 29 different Tribes in Nevada; however, the RSIC and the LVPT are the only two urban Indian Tribes in the state. They also are the largest tribes in Nevada.
RSIC Chairman Arlan D. Melendez says the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony likely won't follow in the footsteps of their urban counterparts in Southern Nevada.
"Though the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony leadership is always looking to diversify Tribal economic development, at this time the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony is not considering this enterprise," he says. "The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony's government and its business enterprises — five smoke shops and retail operations — have created nearly 700 jobs in the region. Unlike 27 of the 29 Nevada Tribes, the RSIC has an urban location that lends itself to a myriad of business opportunities which the majority of our fellow Tribes in isolated, rural reservations don't enjoy."
Strategies 360's Oceguera says that many of Nevada's rural tribes likely will enter into similar compacts with the state to establish a foothold in the recreational marijuana business in some form, such as building out small dispensaries or grow facilities, as new avenues to provide revenue for those tribes. They likely will partner with industry experts to help get such efforts off the ground, much like the LVPT did prior to launching its marijuana endeavors.
"Probably 27 of the 29 (tribes in the state) are in remote areas," Oceguera says. "Any new business venture helps them provide employment and revenue to tribal members. Many of those (rural) counties and cities have opted out of both medical and recreation marijuana, and by providing those services into the rural parts of the state they will provide a service to those local communities as well."
It's definitely new ground for Nevada's tribes — but they've only scratched the surface. LVPT Chairman Benny Tso said in November that the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe is just getting started in the pot business and the Tribe has plans to build additional facilities in Las Vegas.
Pot will be a "significant part of the Tribe's economic future," he said in a November blog post on the NuWu Cannabis Marketplace website.
That's not the case in Northern Nevada, though. Melendez of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony says the RSIC did not want to enter into a business that could potentially impact its sovereignty.
"Our leadership was instrumental in the agreement between the State of Nevada and Nevada Tribes as this working relationship has the potential to impact our sovereignty through government policy and regulations," he says. "Even though, at this time, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony is not considering this enterprise, we are always cognizant of our government-to-government relationships and our inherent right to govern our community unfettered."
Rob Sabo is a Reno-based freelance writer. He can be reached for comment and ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.