A Native American tribe from the renowned California marijuana-growing region known as the Emerald Triangle has announced a plan to open a 2.5-acre indoor growing facility on their land.
The 250-member Pinoleville Pomo Nation, located in Mendocino County, is the first tribe to say they will grow and sell medical marijuana in California. The move follows new Department of Justice guidelines that instruct federal law enforcement agencies to allow pot cultivation and distribution on tribal land.
The Pinoleville's plan to build a $10 million facility on their 99-acre ranch near the county seat of Ukiah has received support from drug policy advocates but has some locals concerned.
"This presents an opportunity for Aboriginal communities to generate revenue via hemp production, which can fund education and public health services within the community,"Amanda Reiman, manager of marijuana law and policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, told VICE News. "Furthermore, access to marijuana for medical purposes can help offset opiate dependence and overdose."
Local officials are concerned with the operation's scale, as well as the county's inability to regulate and oversee the tribe's growing facility. Pinoleville didn't give the county advance notice about their coming pot operation.
"None of this really surprises me," Mendocino County supervisor Dan Hamburg told the Press Democrat. "I just wish there was more we could do about it."
Hamburg said he is worried about the potential environmental damage the pot cultivation facility could cause. "From an ecological perspective, that does not sit well with me," he said.
Environmentally harmful marijuana grows tended by trespassers on private property have prompted some Emerald Triangle landowners to hire a private paramilitary group to eradicate illicit operations.
The Pinoleville Pomo Nation did not respond to several VICE News inquiries, but issued a statement Wednesday about their plan.
"Not only will Pinoleville comply with California's medical marijuana laws, but Tribal laws will establish an administrative oversight that includes background checks, licensing, and investigation of all employees, managers, and persons associated with the business to ensure that the business is safe and legal," the statement said. "Such Tribal laws will require its business to undergo scrutiny and oversight far beyond that which the State requires."
The tribe said their weed will be used "solely for medicinal purposes," and that any employee or tribe member who violates state law will be handed over to local law enforcement.
"The medical plants will be grown in secure, low profile greenhouses located within the tribe's reservation," the statement said. "The Tribal law will dictate extensive security measures that will be required of the operation. Cultivation will have no significant impact on the reservation's environment and generate no significant off-reservation impacts."
The tribe said their pot profits will be used to "help pay for the tribe's social programs including as elder care, child care, health and education."
The National Congress of American Indians, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of tribes and serves as a national body that advances tribal government, has considered a resolution that condemns marijuana legalization. The resolution — which was ultimately tabled for further discussion — cited disproportionately high pot use on tribal lands, potential health risks, and the influence of the large marijuana lobby in Colorado and Washington.
Tribes growing and selling medical marijuana in California could muddy a pot economy that is already complex and semi-informal. Unlike other states that have legalized marijuana, California does not have a statewide regulatory body that handles pot, which has resulted in a motley collection of municipal ordinances. In Mendocino, for example, farmers are legally allowed to grow up to 50 plants — a law that won't apply to the Pinoleville because of their tribal status.
The tribe has reportedly contracted two companies — Colorado-based United Cannabis and Kansas-based FoxBarry Farms — to finance and manage their grow-op. FoxBarry also invests in tribal casinos, and United Cannabis has said the Pinoleville project will be followed by future developments in Central and Southern California, though it's unclear if those will be on tribal lands.
Tim Blake, organizer of the Emerald Cup, a cannabis growing competition in the Emerald Triangle, expressed concern about Pinoleville's corporate partnerships.
"It's going to be quite a battle for small farmers to hold onto the market," Blake told VICE News. "Look at the rest of agriculture in America, big agriculture is the reason why the small farmers are gone."
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