The First NY Adult Use Cannabis Retail Licenses Will Likely Come Under Tribal Ordinance
By: Andrew Cooper, Esq. and Terran Cooper
The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe is now taking applications for Tribal Cannabis Retail Licenses.
On December 14th, 2019, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe legalized adult use of cannabis via Tribal Referendum with 76% approval. Following New York State’s legalization of cannabis possession and personal use by way of the MRTA on March 31st, 2021, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe adopted the Adult Use Cannabis Ordinance. Tribal Council Resolution 2021-33 was signed on June 28th, 2021 and as a result, the Adult Use Cannabis Ordinance was made tribal law.
The Tribe’s Adult Use Cannabis Ordinance is groundbreaking, being the first adult use cannabis law by a tribe in New York and the first in the United States to allow for the licensing of tribal members and tribal member-owned businesses. Tribal Chief Michael Conners emphasized the importance of supporting entrepreneurs in the Saint Regis Mohawk community. “We have many tribal member entrepreneurs and we want to give them the opportunity to help develop this industry for the benefit of the community,” Chief Conners stated.
Some notable provisions of the SRMT Adult Use Cannabis Ordinance include:
1) Adult Tribal Members (at least 21-years old) may grow and maintain up to 12 cannabis plants in their own residences;
2) The Tribe has begun accepting the first round of applications for cannabis licenses (called “pre-clearance” applications) for all licenses (cultivation, processing and dispensary);
3) Upon completion of these initial applications, applicants will be able—within weeks—to submit applications for cultivation licenses, followed by processing and retail licenses;
4) Fee schedules for all applications (developed after public comments);
5) A “Tribal Cannabis Exchange” is established to facilitate the collection of fees, testing and availability of cultivated cannabis to retail stores;
6) The Exchange will be administered by the tribal regulating office, the SRMT Cannabis Compliance Office that is overseen and supervised by a new five-member board, the SRMT Cannabis Control Board;
7) The SRMT cannabis program is a “seed to sale” program — growing, processing, and sales all must take place on Tribal Territory; and
8) Businesses that have prematurely opened are currently subject to cease and desist orders and tribal court actions will be given one “last chance” to comply with the Ordinance. If they failed to comply (i.e. shut down their operations) by Thursday, July 1st they, and their owners and operators, will not be able to obtain a license under the Ordinance.
The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe has already shown its commitment to a legal and regulated adult-use cannabis program, having already filed civil actions in Tribal Court against seven cannabis dispensaries unregulated by the tribe. The dispensaries operating outside of tribal law were provided with potential amnesty if they had closed for the Tribal License Application process, however, seven dispensaries remained open. The Tribe’s Legal Complaint and accompanying Motions for Temporary, Preliminary, and Permanent Injunctions seeks the enforcement of the Cease and Desist Orders in Tribal Court. The Tribe seeks an order from the Court for the dispensaries to be closed and vacated, as well as imposing a civil fine of $1,000 for each day that they failed to obey the Cease and Desist Orders.
As of September 13, 2021, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe began taking applications for Tribal Cannabis Retail Licenses for those who have already submitted an Adult-Use Cannabis Business Pre-Clearance Form. Applicants can expect to hear back on their application’s status in as little as two weeks. Licensing fees collected from the regulated cannabis businesses will serve to support employment efforts and at-risk community programs and services.
In the coming weeks and months, we will see how these licensed, adult-use cannabis retail facilities operate and impact their community. The permitting of tribal entrepreneurs to build a business within the framework of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe is revolutionary and could allow for tribal businesses to have a serious impact on the state of cannabis in New York. The Tribe’s decision was especially clever when looking at the limited nature of most tribal-owned cannabis businesses, and the current state of adult use cannabis in New York. Additionally, if the program is able to provide substantial benefit to the community, perhaps New York municipalities contemplating opting out of certain aspects of the adult-use market will re-think their position.
Disclaimer: This summary is not legal advice and does not create any attorney-client relationship. This summary does not provide a definitive legal opinion for any factual situation. Before the firm can provide legal advice or opinion to any person or entity, the specific facts at issue must be reviewed by the firm. Before an attorney-client relationship is formed, the firm must have a signed engagement letter with a client setting forth the firm’s scope and terms of representation. The information contained herein is based upon the law at the time of publication.
Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe. (2021, June 29). SRMT Adopts Adult Use Cannabis Ordinance. Retrieved from Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe: https://www.srmt-nsn.gov/news/2021/srmt-adopts-adult-use-cannabis-ordinance
Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe. (2021, July 2). SRMT Files in Tribal Court to Close Unlicensed Pot Shops. Retrieved from Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe: https://www.srmt-nsn.gov/news/2021/srmt-files-in-tribal-court-to-close-unlicensed-pot-shops
Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe. (2021, September 10). Tribe Taking Applications for Cannabis Retail Licenses. Retrieved from Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe: https://www.srmt-nsn.gov/news/2021/tribe-taking-applications-for-cannabis-retail-licenses