California Tribe Out Front in Indian Nation MMJ Business

A Native American tribe in Northern California is poised to become the first in the U.S. to grow and sell marijuana on tribal land.

The Pinoleville Pomo Nation in Mendocino County has signed a deal to construct a $10 million indoor grow-op on its rancheria north of Ukiah. The tribe has partnered with FoxBarry Development Company, LLC and its subsidiary, FoxBarry Farms, to develop greenhouses, office space, and processing facilities. The firm will also oversee the statewide distribution of the Pinoleville Pomo Nation’s medical marijuana products. According to Barry Brautman, president of the Kansas-based firm, initial development “will include 90,000 feet of greenhouse space, and another 20,000 feet of indoor space.” He says he’s unsure exactly how many plants will be in rotation at the Pinoleville Pomo Nation’s new facilities, estimating the number to be in the “thousands.”

FoxBarry works with tribes on a variety of projects, including farms and casinos, and has committed $30 million towards the development of medical marijuana projects on tribal lands throughout California. The firm has also reached an agreement with another unnamed Indian Nation that is about a month behind that with the Pinoleville Pomo Nation.

The Colorado-based firm United Cannabis will serve as a consultant to the farms managed by FoxBarry with regards to cultivation, processing, and sales. FoxBarry will retain exclusive rights to the distribution of United Cannabis goods throughout California in return for $200,000 in prepaid royalties, as well as 15 percent of the company’s gross sales.

The agreement follows the December 2014 release of a U.S. Justice Department memo stating that federally-recognized Indian Nations have the right to produce and distribute marijuana and related products on tribal lands. They can do so without fear of federal prosecution even in states where marijuana remains illegal, so long as they do not violate any of the eight guidelines that are applied to states that have legalized marijuana. These include selling to minors and transporting the product to states where it’s still illegal.

Mendocino County officials, meanwhile, have expressed some concern over what they see as a lack of accountability in the Pinoleville Pomo Nation-FoxBarry deal. Because only a third of the tribe’s rancheria is held in federal trust, the firms involved are not required to obey local and state regulations, such as county zoning ordinances concerning the number and location of medical plants. Such advantages could put tribes in a position to take the lead in creating large-scale marijuana operations, something that many initially assumed would be the domain of American tobacco companies.

Although Brautman doesn’t believe that the marijuana industry will provide tribes economic benefits on the same scale as casinos have, he retains high hopes for the industry’s future with Indian Nations. Speaking with the Indian Country Today Media Network, he stated that “tribes that participate in the right type of projects will certainly be in a position to provide their membership with benefits including housing, health care and education.”


Photo Credit: Christine Jump

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