April 15, 2019 5:14 am

Amid Equity Rhetoric, California Blocks Tribal Participation in Cannabis Industry

California’s Native American nations were completely overlooked in the text of Proposition 64, and its enabling legislation. Now one tribe in San Diego County has staked its economic future to legal cannabis — and is standing up for its rights.

A glaring omission in the language of Prop 64, California’s 2016 cannabis legalization initiative, was any provision whatsoever for the state’s indigenous inhabitants. The Golden State’s native nations are sovereign entities under federal law, and this unique status leaves them with no legally defined role in the adult-use market.

Now, the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel in the rural northeast of San Diego County has opened a dispensary in the former site of a casino that closed in 2014. The Mountain Source Dispensary offers both bud and edibles, with an adjacent cultivation site operating as the Santa Ysabel Botanical Facility. The complex employs some 100 workers, and a Santa Ysabel Tribal Cannabis Regulatory Agency has been established to oversee the new local industry.

The problem is that none of this has any legal recognition by the state of California. The state won’t interfere with on-reservation sales, but there is no space under California law for Mountain Source to move its product beyond the borders of Santa Ysabel. The tribe and its supporters say this has to change.

This lack of inclusion on the state’s part also contrasts sharply with its planned implementation of an equity program, passed in 2018, that allots $10 million in funds for the purpose of repairing some of the damage caused by the War on Drugs. It’s effectively impossible to argue that America’s indigenous peoples don’t deserve more than what they’ve been given on a state and federal level, which makes this denial by the California Bureau of Cannabis Control all the more insulting.

Left Behind By the Law

Sacramento’s cannabis bureaucracy acknowledges that as sovereign nations, tribes can do whatever they want with cannabis on their reservations. “But they cannot operate in the licensed California market,” Alex Traverso, a representative of the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. That means no off-reservation sales, shipments or locations.


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