Native Americans Are Operating New York State’s First Legal Cannabis Dispensaries

Thanks to tribal government regulations, Native Americans have been the first to enter the market.

New Yorkers craving some (legal) cannabis flower or THC gummies won't need to exit New York State to find them. In fact, Native Americans are already operating some of the state's first legal cannabis retail stores on tribal lands.

Following regulations enforced by their tribal governments, Native American entrepreneurs have successfully opened cannabis dispensaries upstate, NBC New York reports. As long as the dispensaries are located on federally recognized, sovereign tribal land, they are considered legal according to New York officials and do not have to be licensed by the state. Cannabis remains illegal under federal law, although 18 states and Washington DC have now legalized recreational sales.

Although New York legalized recreational cannabis over a year ago, finalized regulations have yet to be announced. They're expected to come this summer as part of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which would finally allow legal dispensaries to open in New York City and other major cities. Officials recently announced that the first state licenses will go to people with prior cannabis convictions or members of their family. 

The new legal cannabis shops are quickly expanding on Native American land. At the border with Canada, the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation already hosts many operating stores, while the Cayuga Nation is reportedly selling cannabis products in two locations in the Finger Lakes. According to NBC New York, additional stores have opened on Seneca territory in Western New York.

In the near future, more dispensaries and shops are set to open on Native American territory, the result of enterprising Native Americans who sought to be the first ones to enter the budding cannabis market. A new "superstore" will open on Mohawk territory in mid-April, and both the Cayuga Nation and the Shinnecock Indian Nation are working to open cultivation spaces in their respective territories of the Finger Lakes and eastern Long Island near the Hamptons.

"I think this is a relief valve for our visitors, our friends, our families," William Roger Jock, a partner in Good Leaf Dispensary on Mohawk tribal land called the Akwesasne, told NBC. "We have been stepped on for so long and to have something like this happen, it's almost liberating."

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Serena Tara is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.