Image via

A Native American nation in northern New York is hoping to launch full-scale cannabis cultivation and retail market before the state gets around to issuing retail business licenses. 

The Cayuga Nation, a sovereign territory in the Finger Lakes region of New York, recently announced plans to build a 15,000 square-foot cultivation facility in Seneca Falls. To oversee the new operation, the Nation hired Jake Brewer, who formerly worked as a head grower at a legal weed company in Colorado. The facility is on track to plant its first crop this year, and the resulting harvest will be processed, packaged, and sold on tribal land.

“The Cayuga Nation is proud to announce plans for its cannabis cultivation operations and retail facilities,” said tribal leader Clint Halftown to the Finger Lakes Times. “Developing our cannabis business is the next step in expanding and diversifying the Cayuga Nation’s economic opportunities and providing long-lasting benefits to the community.” Halftown added that the Nation is “excited to move forward with this new business opportunity that will create jobs and generate much-needed revenue for the Nation members.”

The nation is actually already selling tax-free legal weed products at its own dispensary in Cayuga County and at two smoke shops in Seneca Falls. At present, these stores are selling imported weed, but the new grow-op will allow the nation to replace these products with home-grown bud by year’s end.

At present, it is still illegal for most businesses to sell adult-use cannabis in New York, but Native American nations are not subject to state laws and regulations. Hence, they are free to launch their own local cannabis markets without waiting around for the state to issue licenses.

“Like every Native American nation or tribe, the Cayuga Nation’s inherent sovereignty protects our right to grow and sell cannabis within our reservation,’’ Halftown told the Finger Lakes Times. Even so, tribal officials have chosen to coordinate their plans with the state Office of Cannabis Management. 

Several other Native New York nations are taking advantage of their right to start selling weed before anyone else in the state. The St. Regis Mohawk tribe were first to get the ball rolling, and started selling adult-use flower, gummies, and tinctures last November. Meanwhile, the Shinnecock Nation built a cannabis cultivation facility on Long Island, and hopes to make their first sales later this year. The Seneca Nation started a weed gifting service, which is not subject to the state ban on pot gifting, and the Oneida Indian Nation is also considering launching its own legal pot market.

New York legalized adult-use weed last March, but regulators do not intend to issue full adult-use business licenses until the end of 2023. Fortunately, the state just passed a law that will grant existing hemp businesses licenses to grow weed for the adult-use market. These licenses will be available to businesses that agree to participate in a social equity program that provides mentorship for applicants who qualify for the state’s equity licenses. 

With this new law in effect, New York may actually see its first state-licensed legal weed shops open sometime this year. But even if that dream comes true, the state’s Native nations still have plenty of time to get a head start on legal sales.