Shinnecock to Grow and Dispense Medical Marijuana

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By Kathryn G. Menu

The tribal council of the Shinnecock Indian Nation on Saturday voted in support of plans to build a medical cannabis cultivation facility on reservation land in Southampton, as well as a dispensary, with hopes to open the facility by the end of this year.

While the project will need approval from the state, this week New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. said as long as the Nation complies with state laws regarding medical cannabis dispensary under the Compassionate Care Act, the state would not be able to deny them because they are a federally-recognized Native American tribe.

According to a press release issued by the Shinnecock Indian Nation, members voted 71-percent (83) to 29-percent (34) to approve the project and pursue designation from the state to be a provider for patients who qualify under the Compassionate Care Act’s medical cannabis program.

“As a people, we have always had a cultural appreciation for natural, holistic medicine and the difference it can make in the lives of those suffering most,” said Bryan Polite, Chairman of the Shinnecock Indian Nation. “The New York State Compassionate Care Act was a big step in the right direction for administering quality holistic medicine to people suffering from very serious illnesses.”

“We also recognize this is an opportunity to create jobs for our members and true economic development to support tribal programs,” he continued. “We are encouraged by the enthusiastic support of our members and look forward to continuing our discussions with the State of New York to make this a reality.”

The Compassionate Care Act was enacted in 2014 with the state’s Medical Marijuana Program launching on January 7. The program provides access to medical marijuana for certified patients suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, intractable spasticity caused by damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies and Huntington’s disease, according to the state Department of Health.

Patients must obtain a medical marijuana registry card, and the plant can only be distributed as a capsule, liquid or oil in New York State.

As of February 5, 350 physicians had registered with the state medical marijuana program, with 669 patients certified by their doctors for access at one of the 20 dispensaries approved statewide.

A federal memorandum issued in 2014 opened the door for Native American tribes to operate medical marijuana facilities, and according to the Nation, it was that memorandum that led them to consult with legal experts and industry officials before conducting several tribal meetings on the idea.

Under the Shinnecock plan, all facilities will be tribally-owned, with industry experts hired to train tribal members to take leadership roles in the management and operation of the facilities. Revenues would support education, substance abuse programs, law enforcement and senior housing on the reservation.

According to Mr. Thiele, members of the Nation have met with him about the issue. The Nation said in its press release it has also met with officials from the state Department of Health, as well as state and local law enforcement.

“If you are a federally recognized tribe, if the state permits it, the nation is allowed to do it,” he said.

The Nation, he noted, would have to follow state laws about medical marijuana. While bills have already been introduced to liberalize medical marijuana regulations, Mr. Thiele said he did not expect those bills to find support in either the assembly, the state senate or with Governor Andrew Cuomo.

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