Shinnecock Will Begin Construction On Marijuana Dispensary Next Week, With Giant Cultivation Operation On The Horizon

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An architects rendering of the future Shinnecock Nation's marijuana dispensary and wellness center designed by T-Arch Studio of Bridgehampton. Construction is slated to begin next week.

The Shinnecock Nation expects to begin construction next week on its long-planned medical marijuana dispensary and wellness center on Montauk Highway, the first step in what the tribe and its business partners hope will be multi-pronged economic venture that will generate tens of millions of dollars for the tribe and could make it a major wholesaler of cannabis products statewide.

The 5,000-square-foot dispensary building and 2,500-square-foot wellness center are due to be completed and open for business by the end of the year. The facilities will provide a dozen or so jobs for tribe members and have been forecast to generate up to $10 million a year in revenue, almost out of the gate — and far more if New York State loosens its rules on recreation pot use.

The dispensary will be a retail business, selling cannabis products to those who carry state approved medical marijuana cards. The wellness center will host a variety of programs and events exploring the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes and other holistic approaches to improved physical and spiritual health.

Once the first two facilities are up and running, the tribe and its development partner, Conor Green Consulting, plan to begin work on a marijuana plant cultivation facility that is envisioned to ultimately be a sprawling growing, packaging and shipping operation anchoring a wholesale marijuana business that will reach far from the tribe’s home on Shinnecock Neck.

“Next week is just the start,” said Bryan Polite, chairman of the tribal Council of Trustees. “[The cultivation facility] is going to be a large scale operation. Enough to be a large scale distributor for the rest of New York.”

Mr. Polite said that the scale of the cultivation facility looks well past New York’s current allowance of growing and using marijuana for medicinal uses to an anticipated lifting of the state’s restrictions on adult recreational use.

“Then it’s a whole different game,” Mr. Polite said. “We’re going to be building now in anticipation of that.”

The tribal chairman said that even the substantial revenues that are expected in fairly short order from the dispensary and wellness center, will be a significant boost to the social programs, housing assistance and infrastructure on the tribal territory.

Chenae Bullock, the head of Little Beach Harvest, the tribal corporation that will own and operate the marijuana and wellness programs, said that she sees an even stronger foundation underlying the new venture: one that is already re-engaging tribe members in their agrarian history and fostering closer relationships between generations within the tribe that suddenly have newly merged interests.

The many needs of a major operation like the cultivation facility and the varied opportunities of the wellness center’s exploration of health, will provide a professional development launch pad for tribe members into innumerable career opportunities from horticulture to functional medicine to marketing, both on and off Shinnecock.

The cultivation and wholesale operations are expected to generate up to 100 new full-time jobs, for which members of the tribe will get first preference.

The tribe’s business consultant, Todd Bergeron, said that construction of the cultivation facility — at a former dump in the interior of the 800-acre reservation — is expected to get underway next year, and will take nearly a year to complete.

Conor Green Consulting started out partnering with tribes in gaming facilities before being sold to Mr. Bergeron, who had been one of the company’s investors and is now steering it toward a focus on tribal marijuana facilities. The Shinnecock project is its first venture in the field.

The company expects to invest between $20 million and $40 million in the tribe’s operations, depending on how evolving state rules drive the demand for expanding the cultivation operations.

“These are high-tech facilities,” Mr. Bergeron said. “From advanced HVAC, to water filtration and lighting. It’s pretty massive.”

Conor Green is contracting with a national company — which he declined to name — that has designs and operates large-scale commercial marijuana programs around the county to help avoid “all the mistakes an upstart operation makes … and can execute flawlessly from the beginning. That’s a major advantage.”

Revenues, Mr. Bergeron said, are expected to be in the $10 million to $15 million range from medicinal sales and many times that if recreational use is allowed.

“The potential for adult use in New York is $2.5 billion in retail sales,” the Chicago businessman said.

The tribe began pursuing setting up a medical marijuana dispensary in 2016, but the effort languished before being picked up again by the tribal leadership in 2018. After a groundbreaking ceremony over the winter and the clearing of the property, near the tribe’s cultural museum, the project had to be put on hold because of the coronavirus epidemic. But now, the tribal leaders are eager to get the project rolling full steam ahead, Mr. Polite said.

Mr. Polite said that even with the potentially grand scale of the marijuana operation, it still may not be the tribe’s brightest economic hope. The Shinnecock have not given up their tumultuous aspirations for someday also owning a casino. After the disastrous dissolution of the first casino push, the tribe last year approved a new casino development partnership with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, who own most of the Hard Rock restaurant, hotel and casino chain, and New Jersey developer Jack Morris on plans for a Shinnecock casino. Mr. Polite said the effort is still in the very early stages. The cannabis operations will grow in parallel with that effort, he said.

“This is just going to be one of many projects that the tribe is pursuing so that we are diversified and not putting all our eggs in one basket,” Mr. Polite said. “But outside of a casino, we expect this would be our biggest revenue generator and biggest job creator.”

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