Native American tribes all over the country are now looking to the marijuana industry as a way to pull themselves out of the economic hardships. In California, the situation is no different, with the lipay Nation of Santa Ysabel located in San Diego County trading its aspirations of generating revenue through the gaming industry to make room for marijuana growers.
A recent report from the Los Angeles Times shows the tribe, which was forced to close the doors on a large casino several years ago due to $50 million of debt, has resurrected the shell of its vacant 35,000-square-foot gaming facility and turned it into medical marijuana grow operation that now leases to growers supplying the state’s legal cannabis trade.
The tribe first began to get serious about joining the business of marijuana after the Justice Department issued the Wilkinson Memo in 2014, giving tribal communities the freedom to engage in marijuana-related activities. This permission, which suggested tribes were now prosecution proof, was granted around the same time that the DOJ gave legal states some breathing room to experiment with legal wed under the infamous Cole Memo.
However, some tribes were not so quick to jump into bed with a substance that is still considered illegal under federal law. But the 700-member Santa Ysabel tribe was willing to take advantage of any opportunity to dig themselves out of the gaping hole left behind by its failed casino. The tribal leaders soon formulated a plan to utilize the remnants of its busted gaming venture to bring to life a new revenue source – medical marijuana.
Although the facility is still a work in progress, it has been semi-functional for the past 18 months, the Times reports. “The greenhouses are at various stages of construction,” said Dave Vialpando, who oversees the Santa Ysabel Cannabis Regulatory Agency and Cannabis Commission. “It won’t be all cultivation. There will be processing rooms and trimming rooms and storage rooms. There’s a lot of infrastructure that goes with the enterprise of medical cannabis.”
There does seem to be some question regarding whether the tribe’s business activities are actually legal under California law. The district attorney’s office says it has “advised the tribe that if state laws are broken in a location where [they] have jurisdiction, [their] office will review any resulting investigation for potential criminal charges.”
Yet Vialpando says the tribe is doing everything by the books, keeping all of its operations in line with the federal memo. And while California is preparing to
launch a full legal pot market, he says the tribe has no plans to participate in the recreational sector.