AKWESASNE — Marijuana sales have been permitted in the northern portion of Akwesasne since Canada legalized marijuana in 2018. With the state Legislature passing New York’s cannabis measure, the southern portion of Akwesasne may see revenue generated from legalized recreational marijuana in the future.
Scott Thompson, who opened Budders Quickstop Dispensary in Akwesasne, Quebec, a marijuana business about four months ago, runs Crossroads Tobacco & Wellness Center in Hogansburg, a store where he sells tobacco and vape products now and would be open to selling marijuana in the future — depending on what the tribal government allows.
“I’ll wait and see what the tribe says first,” Thompson said.
Thompson said after Canada legalized marijuana, the tribe was able to adopt its own rules regarding adult-use marijuana and he expects a similar situation will occur after New York’s action on its own cannabis measure.
“When Canada passed their law they gave every council and reservation the right to come up with their own regulations,” Thompson said.
Thompson said it took him a couple years working with the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe to get his store up and running in the northern portion of Akwesasne, adding the first few months of his new business have been successful.
“It has gone very well, better than I expected,” Thompson said.
Joseph Bowen, Akwesasne Chamber of Commerce treasurer, said the passage of the cannabis measure in New York creates opportunities for economic development and future revenue throughout Akwesasne.
Bowen said the chamber of commerce will work with businesses in Akwesasne as the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe completes ordinances on adult-use marijuana.
“The chamber will support and help our businesses have their voices heard,” Bowen said.
Bowen said he felt cannabis stores in Akwesasne would have an advantage over future competitors based on the experience of stores in the northern portion of Akwesasne, where adult-use marijuana was already legal.
“It’s an advantage we have, there have been stores in the northern portion that have been open for the past six months,” Bowen said. “They have been able to gauge what works and what doesn’t work, and what the business needs to do to be successful.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill from the Legislature to legalize and regulate adult-use marijuana Wednesday the day after the Legislature passed a cannabis measure legalizing recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older after 90 years of its prohibition.
The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe Tribal Council released a statement on the new law Wednesday addressing the impact of legal adult-use marijuana for Akwesasne.
According to the Tribal Council statement, under New York’s cannabis measure, New York state will permit the growing, processing and sale of marijuana under strict rules to be administered by a state Cannabis Control Board, which will allow persons 21 years or older to possess a certain amount of marijuana, some plants in their own homes and to purchase a certain amount in dispensaries, in addition to allowing individuals to obtain licenses from the control board to grow, process and sell marijuana.
But New York still needs to create this control board, hire staff to administer its laws and issue detailed regulations before these provisions go into effect, with sales of legal marijuana not expected to take place in New York until sometime in 2022, according to the Tribal Council statement.
“So ‘off reservation’ people will have to wait at least a year, or maybe 18 months, and follow the strict rules applicable to use, possession, sales, and having a marijuana business,” the tribe’s statement reads.
Additionally, the tribe’s statement said community members are not free to buy and use adult-use marijuana in the southern portion of Akwesasne or start a business selling marijuana, under tribal law, though ordinances are in the works.
“Here at Akwesasne (the southern portion), the Tribe has been working steadily to obtain community approval in the cannabis area,” the Tribe’s statement reads. “A medical marijuana ordinance has been approved, but not yet implemented. A hemp plan is soon to be approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”
For adult-use marijuana, the tribe is going forward with an ordinance to legalize and regulate it, and the plan is to circulate a draft ordinance to the community soon, with three public meetings for input and education to follow, according to the Tribal Council statement.
“The Tribe’s adult-use ordinance will permit within our Tribal territory the use, possession, and sale of adult-use marijuana,” the Tribe’s statement reads. “But, it will — like New York state’s laws — do so under strict rules designated to protect the health, safety, and welfare of community members. At the same time, it will allow Tribal members to apply for licenses to grow, process, and sell adult-use marijuana.”
The tribe’s adult-use ordinance will not become law until public comment is gathered, a Tribal Cannabis Control Board is created, and any further regulations are adopted, according to the tribe’s statement.
“Please do not assume that you can now legally use, possess, or sell adult-use marijuana on or off our territory. At some point you will be able to do so. And here at Akwesasne, you will be able to do so under the Tribe’s own laws,” the tribe’s statement reads. “Do not assume the Tribe’s ordinance will permit open and free, and unregulated use, possession, and sale. Depending on how the ordinance eventually reads, it will have strict limits on all of these marijuana activities.”
The tribe’s statement encouraged patience for both on and off-reservation sales moving forward.
“The Tribe wants to do this right with the proper rules and regulations to allow for business opportunities and, at the same time, safeguard our community,” the Tribal Council statement reads.