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Native American Tribe Swaps Casino for Canna-Business

The Iipay Nation is building greenhouses on a hill that once housed a failing casino.

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One Native American tribe outside of San Diego, California, is using legal weed to dig themselves out of the hole dug by casino dreams. 

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel is in the process of turning the massive parking lot of the now defunct Santa Ysabel Resort and Casino into a series of state of the art cannabis production facilities.

The tribe found out that the casino business wasn’t as easy as it looked when they opened the resort in 2007, and by the time the doors were shut for good in 2014, the Iipay Nation was in debt to the tune of $50 million. 

Since then, the hilltop casino lot has been transformed, thanks to the budding cannabis industry. Since 2015, greenhouses and never-ending construction have created a renewed vision of financial freedom for the tribe. 

“The greenhouses are at various stages of construction,” Dave Vialpando, who leads the Santa Ysabel Cannabis Regulatory Agency and Cannabis Commission, the group that oversees the tribe’s canna-business, said. “It won’t be all cultivation. There will be processing rooms and trimming rooms and storage rooms. There’s a lot of infrastructure that goes with the enterprise of medical cannabis.”

The Iipay Nation is the first Native American tribe to take advantage of an Obama-era memo from the Justice Department that promised a prosecutorial pass for sovereign nations operating cannabis businesses within states’ legal weed legislation. 

So while the Iipay Nation’s cannabis facilities are still in their infancy stage, the tribe has had no problems with law enforcement, and is already seeing some of the economic advancement they thought they would find with slot machines and poker tables. 

The property has only two functioning grow houses at the moment, and both are rented to local medical marijuana producers, with about 1,000 plants on the property in total. That may not be enough to pay back casino debts and bring the tribe’s books back into the black yet, but continued construction and plans for expansion have things looking up for the Iipay Nation. 

Other tribes have yet to get in on the legal weed industry, with most taking a wait and see approach to gauge law enforcement’s reaction. But if the success in Santa Ysabel is any indication, cannabis could be a saving grace for tribes across the country.