New York's Native Americans Are Ready to Enter the Legal Weed Business
Legal weed is about to become one of New York's most lucrative new industries and local indigenous tribes don't want to be left out of the picture.
Published on April 28, 2021

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Less than a month after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed New York's long-awaited adult-use cannabis bill into law, several indigenous tribal nations are announcing their own plans to get in on the game.

Adult New Yorkers are now legally allowed to possess up to three ounces of weed, but legal retail sales are not slated to begin until December, 2022. Tribal nations are not required to comply with the state's weed regulations, though, and at least one nation believes they can beat the rest of the state to the punch. 

The Shinnecock Indian Nation on Long Island just announced that they are planning to break ground on a brand new cannabis cultivation facility within the next couple of weeks. Ideally, the tribe hopes that they can begin selling recreational pot by the end of 2021, at least a year before sales go live in the rest of the state. 

In Northern New York, the Saint Regis Mohawks are also eyeing their own cannabis plans. At present, this nation prohibits recreational weed, and the tribal government actually just sent cease and desist letters to several illegal pot dispensaries that were operating on their land. But in a recent press release, the tribe indicated that they were working on a new ordinance to eventually legalize adult-use sales.

“The Tribe is currently consulting with tribal members on the development of an Adult Use Marijuana Ordinance,” the tribe said in a press release, according to the Press-Republican. This ordinance would legalize and regulate the cultivation, processing, and sale of adult-use weed under tribal jurisdiction. Licensing fees and taxes would go to fund community programs and other services to benefit the tribe as a whole.

The Saint Regis Mohawks are still debating this proposal, and have not released any timeframe for when retail sales could begin. The tribe does advise that any “sale or any commercial activity involving recreational marijuana prior to obtaining a license will be in violation of tribal law and subject to enforcement action,” though.

And in Central New York, the Oneida Indian Nation is reportedly considering the idea of creating their own adult-use retail market, but have yet to come to any final decision on the matter.

It's entirely possible that one or more of these tribes could start selling weed before the state officially allows retail sales to begin, but is that even legal? According to cannabis policy expert Heather Treja, the answer isn't entirely clear. “It’s a bit murky, like a lot of things” in the state's new adult-use law, she told

New York's cannabis law does not broach the topic of marijuana sales on Native American land, but under federal law, tribal nations have the right to create their own weed laws. Treja believes that it would be legal for New Yorkers to buy weed on tribal lands and take it home, as long as they comply with the three-ounce limit imposed by state law.

All across the US, a growing number of Native American nations are launching their own legal weed markets. Earlier this week, the Crow Tribe in Montana announced plans to legalize adult-use sales, and the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and the Bay Mills Indian Community in Michigan both greenlighted legal pot sales last year. Many other tribal nations have legalized medical cannabis as well, which could make it easier for them to transition into the adult-use market.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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