'The tribe has taken over': the Native Americans running Las Vegas's only cannabis lounge

  
Via:  perrie-halpern  •  3 weeks ago  •  20 comments

By:   Dan Hernandez

'The tribe has taken over': the Native Americans running Las Vegas's only cannabis lounge
Nevada law restricts marijuana consumption to private residences until 2021, but sovereignty exempts the Las Vegas Paiute

Kavika brought this article to me because he thought it was interesting but he wouldn't be around to moderate it, so I am posting it. It's worth the read. 


S E E D E D   C O N T E N T


A couple seated at a high-top table smoked a joint, while six tourists in a circular booth nearby drank THC-infused beer and reviewed the flower menu. It was the morning of the Southern Paiute’s traditional hunt, when tribal youth learn to shoot and harvest mule deer as adult “providers”, but Benny Tso, 43, was stuck in the   Las Vegas   Paiute’s new cannabis tasting room, taking meetings and making calls.

The Tudinu, or “desert people”, from whom the Las Vegas Paiute descend, have lived in southern   Nevada   for more than 1,000 years, spending summers in the mountains and winters by a valley spring until the area was taken over by white settlers. They worked as ranch hands for several decades, and in 1970, the Las Vegas Paiutes became recognized as a sovereign nation, after which they launched several businesses.

In 2017, they opened the NuWu   Cannabis   Marketplace, a glass-walled, big box structure that half resembles a car dealership.   NuWu – which means “the people” in Southern Paiute – sits on the tribe’s “colony” one mile away from the neon-lit Fremont Street Experience.

Last month, NuWu became the go-to dispensary for many in Las Vegas, and not just because it’s the only one with a drive-thru window. NuWu opened Nevada’s first cannabis tasting room in October. Sovereignty exempts them from a law that restricts marijuana consumption to private residences until 1 July 2021.

On that date, Sin City will no doubt host the kitschiest, most glammed-out cannabis party scene in the world. A dispensary with “galactic scale”, Planet 13, already has a restaurant and cafe space inside its 112,000-sq-ft marijuana superstore near the Las Vegas Strip. But for the next 21 months, this 55-member Southern Paiute band has the pot lounge business all to itself.

“We laughed at first about it. Like, ‘oh crap, we’re going to be weed dealers?’” said Tso, who served as the tribal council chair for over 10 years. “After we got the jokes aside, we started digging into the numbers. It was just a different way to generate revenue for the tribe when we realized we needed to do something to put our people in better situations.

“Within a year and half this is going to compete with our other businesses,” Tso said of NuWu Cannabis Marketplace. “I think we’ve prolonged our tribe by three to four more generations.”

He noted that federal assistance for healthcare, education and law enforcement services has “dwindled” since the recession. In fact, a 2018   report   by the US Commission on Civil Rights titled Broken Promises called the funding status for Indian country “grossly inadequate”.

“There are 560 some odd treaties between the US government and tribes, and none of them have been honored,” Tso said. “But with this business we’ve created, we’ll balance out some of those shortfalls.”

Located in a neighborhood with multiple cemeteries, tow yards and homeless shelters, the Southern Paiutes’ cannabis lounge is off the beaten path. But one afternoon last month, Jessica, a Las Vegas local, celebrated her 26th birthday by inhaling smoke from a dab rig that the bartender lit for her.

Dan, an accountant from Denver, ordered a bong hit. “This would be a great place to bring my folks,” he said. “They love to come to Vegas and throw convention out the window.”

Occasionally, NuWu has to cut people off. But overall the experiment has gone so well that two to three other Native American tribes visit each week to learn about the industry some are calling “the new new buffalo”, a reference to the term used for casinos when the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act passed in 1988.

In a city saturated with gambling, where even laundromats and grocery stores have slot machines, the Las Vegas Paiutes never saw the casino business as a viable economic driver. Their main revenue source since 1970 has been a tobacco store that sells tax-free cigarettes.

“The Paiute in an interesting way took advantage of this community that grew around them,” said Michael Green, a history professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “When you go to Las Vegas, you don’t take care of yourself, and casino culture, for locals who worked there, had a similar impact. You’re working all day with people smoking, drinking and sometimes making considerable money. That became hard to resist, and the Paiutes did well financially knowing there were plenty of smokers in this area.”

The strength and ingenuity they have used to survive centuries of marginalization has parallels to the Las Vegas Paiutes’ creation story, which states that their ancestors roamed the desert as ants until a great flood forced them to crawl up a mountain and ascend trees. When the water receded, they returned to the ground and became “two legs” – human beings – and an especially communal, hardworking sort.

“We do get teased because we’re city Indians, but a majority of us know our culture and that’s the point,” said Tso, whose arms are covered in tattoos of traditional Paiute symbols and tools. His community may need NuWu to be that mountain they climb in the event of a perfect storm, since the tobacco shop revenue plateaued years ago, right as healthcare costs rose to levels unmet by federal support.

Another challenge they face is a corporate invasion.

MedMen and other companies listed on the Canadian Securities Exchange now operate cannabis dispensaries near the Las Vegas strip. According to Dayvid Figler, an attorney who practices cannabis law in Nevada, “The old school Vegas people, the local cultivators, the mom and pops, etc, who were the sole people in the industry are either all gone or have changed their roles.

“From a business standpoint it’s a very volatile terrain,” he added. “You’re getting reports of $30m, $45m, $100m for the transfers of marijuana licenses from establishments within Nevada to these corporate entities that have ownership outside the state.”

The potential for crony capitalism in the Nevada cannabis industry was highlighted last month with the   revelation   that associates of Rudy Giuliani arrested in Donald Trump’s Ukraine imbroglio unsuccessfully tried to enter the Las Vegas cannabis market through max donations to Republican candidates for governor and attorney general.

The Las Vegas resorts, too, have a stake in the future of the cannabis industry. Acting as the ultimate power broker, the resorts killed a cannabis lounge licensing bill in the 2017 legislature arguing that any marijuana use drifting on to their properties might lead federal regulators to revoke their gaming licenses. This year, the resorts convinced the governor to impose a three-year moratorium on cannabis lounges, and the Las Vegas city council banned such businesses from operating within 1,000ft of any casino.

“In reality, [the resorts] didn’t want the competition. They’re hoping in two years marijuana will go legal federally, and then they can bring it inside the hotels,” said the former state senator Tick Segerblom, who wrote the failed cannabis lounge bill.

Having co-authored the agreement that allowed the Las Vegas Paiutes into Nevada’s cannabis industry, Segerblom (the rare politician with a pot strain   named after him ), took solace in their success. “The marijuana industry is dominated by white people, but along comes this tribe and just takes over. Of all the things I’ve done, this is the one I’m most excited about.”

“They have outdoor grows taking place in northern Nevada on reservations where hundreds of people haven’t had jobs in forever,” he added. “It’s a true minority group that’s been screwed over since Christopher Columbus, and it’s just fitting justice. I sleep well at night.”

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Kavika
1  Kavika     3 weeks ago
Having co-authored the agreement that allowed the Las Vegas Paiutes into Nevada’s cannabis industry, Segerblom (the rare politician with a pot strain named after him ), took solace in their success. “The marijuana industry is dominated by white people, but along comes this tribe and just takes over. Of all the things I’ve done, this is the one I’m most excited about.” “They have outdoor grows taking place in northern Nevada on reservations where hundreds of people haven’t had jobs in forever,” he added. “It’s a true minority group that’s been screwed over since Christopher Columbus, and it’s just fitting justice. I sleep well at night.”

Bingo, absolutly correct...Well done Mr. Segerblom.

Having lived in Vegas for 9 years I know some of the Paiute involved in this. Well done niijii.

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
2  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.    3 weeks ago

Well, if that isn't good old fashioned American entrepreneurship I don't know what is. Well done!  

 
 
 
Enoch
3  Enoch    3 weeks ago

Interesting.

Thanks for posting.

E

 
 
 
Dean Moriarty
4  Dean Moriarty    3 weeks ago

“They have outdoor grows taking place in northern Nevada on reservations where hundreds of people haven’t had jobs in forever,”

I don't understand why they haven't had jobs. If the climate is suitable for growing marijuana why haven't they been growing other plants or focusing on a different forms of capitalism like manufacturing or service related businesses. 

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
4.1  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  Dean Moriarty @4    3 weeks ago

Hi Dean,

Because farming, in general, is not profitable anymore. On Long Island, the few family farms that we have been struggling to stay operating. Corn, potatoes, tomatoes do not bring in enough income, especially when you compare them to the big automated corporate farms. On the other hand, marijuana brings in huge income per square acre.  

But the good news is that this will be a game-changer for the tribes. 

 
 
 
1stwarrior
4.1.1  1stwarrior  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @4.1    3 weeks ago

As does hemp.  Couple of tribes/nations in the upper mid-West are growing hemp as an income producer and it "appears" to be working for them.  However, the market is pretty well tied up by the corporations, which the tribes/nations can't compete with.

 
 
 
Dean Moriarty
4.1.2  Dean Moriarty  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @4.1    3 weeks ago

I hope it helps them to achieve prosperity but I feel they are missing out on thousands of other ways to provide desired goods and services. There is tremendous opportunity in a wide range of sectors of the economy that appears to be missing in their community. 

 
 
 
Freefaller
4.1.3  Freefaller  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @4.1    3 weeks ago
Because farming, in general, is not profitable anymore. On Long Island, the few family farms that we have been struggling to stay operating. Corn, potatoes, tomatoes do not bring in enough income, especially when you compare them to the big automated corporate farms. On the other hand, marijuana brings in huge income per square acre.  

Perrie very true, however as an addendum Pot is basically a weed that can grow in condition where other plants cannot.  I used to see acres of it growing huge in the severe drought conditions of southern Afghanistan

 
 
 
1stwarrior
4.1.4  1stwarrior  replied to  Dean Moriarty @4.1.2    3 weeks ago

Dean - way back when Billy was Prez, he went to the Pine Ridge Reservation and announced Native American Heritage Month.  He also stated that he and his administration were appalled at the conditions and TOTAL lack of opportunities available to the Tribes/Nations.   He stated, not once, but several times, that he and his administration would get some Fortune 500 companies to come to the reservations and partner with the Tribes/Nations to get their economic resources/opportunities going forward.

Do you know how many Fortune 500 companies came to the reservations - ZERO.  Do you know what the Clinton Administration, both terms, did to assist the Tribes/Nations develop economic opportunities - NOTHING.

The economic opportunities afforded the Tribes/Nations has been primarily leasing the lands for mineral extraction and Casinos.  Most reservations (326) are not near any metropolitan areas.  There are 573 Federally Recognized Tribes/Nations.  Some have to share reservations with other Tribes/Nations so, if you think the DC governments are messy, imagine the friction on those shared reservations.

There are 238 Tribal/Nation Casinos in the U.S.  Unfortunately, only 28 of those casinos are profitable to the extent that they are able to give back to the members.  The other 210 are either breakeven or struggling - due to the demographics and proximity to metropolitan areas.

The lands that the Tribes/Nations have to live on were selected with great care in the 1800's/early 1900's.  The intent, by Congress, was to FORCE the natives to either assimilate into White Society or for the Tribes/Nations to perish due to lack of opportunities for sustainment.

The opportunities you may be thinking of are not and probably won't be available to the Tribes/Nations due to their locations, agricultural density or governmental support.  The BIA/Feds have 274 laws written that determine what a Tribe/Nation can or can not do.  Example - leasing - back in the day, a Tribe/Nation could lease property for a 10 year period - period.  Other groups/organizations/businesses have no cap on the length they are allowed to lease.  The Tribe/Nation could only receive 10% of the leasing proceeds - the balance went to the "overhead" of the BIA which was "supposed" to be placed in a trust for the Tribe/Nation.  As you know from the Cobell vs U.S. case, in many cases the money never made it to the trust.

Non-Indian communities do not wish to "partner" with the Tribes/Nations - Example - ND, SD, MT, ID, UT, NV, CA, OR, WA and a number of Eastern states are, for the most part, doing all they can to rid the Tribes/Nations of any vestiture as a separate sovereignty and even have laws on the books to prevent such partnering.

However, there are other Tribes/Nations that have diversified greatly and are very successful - Oneida, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Chippewa, Navajo, Apache, Osage, etc.  In fact, my Nation is considered as the 2nd richest Nation of Indian Tribes.

There is a whole lot more involved in why those opportunities will never be given/allowed.  I just hope I was able to show some of them.

 
 
 
Dean Moriarty
4.1.5  Dean Moriarty  replied to  1stwarrior @4.1.4    3 weeks ago

Thank you for that information. 

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
4.1.6  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  Dean Moriarty @4.1.2    3 weeks ago

Dean a couple of things to consider.

Reservations like this are usually far from any source of commerce to do business. 

Most of the reservation doesn't have anything more than a high school degree if that.

This is a stepping stone. Hopefully, more will come of it. 

 
 
 
Dean Moriarty
4.1.7  Dean Moriarty  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @4.1.6    3 weeks ago

Yes thank you, I hope it is a catalyst for more opportunities in their community. 

 
 
 
Kavika
4.1.8  Kavika   replied to  Dean Moriarty @4.1.7    3 weeks ago

Dean here is a good article that explains how the federal government and their laws and rules have locked most Indian reservations in permanent poverty. 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2014/03/13/5-ways-the-government-keeps-native-americans-in-poverty/#7514a3772c27

 
 
 
1stwarrior
4.1.9  1stwarrior  replied to  Kavika @4.1.8    3 weeks ago

Excellent thread with really important information.  Thanks Kavika.

 
 
 
Dean Moriarty
4.1.10  Dean Moriarty  replied to  Kavika @4.1.8    3 weeks ago

Good article thank you Kavika. 

 
 
 
Kavika
4.1.11  Kavika   replied to  Dean Moriarty @4.1.10    3 weeks ago

Dean, some years back Polaris (snowmobiles mfg) wanted to build a facility on Ojibwe Leech Lake reservation (northern MN) The BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) took 5 years to get it's act together to see if they would allow this plant on the reservation. Unfortunately 5 years was way beyond ridiculous for a corporation and the tribe to have to wait for a decision on this. Polaris went somewhere else and the tribe and company lost out of a very good opportunity. 

This is not an exception to the rule this is the rule with the BIA/Dept of Interior.

 
 
 
Dean Moriarty
4.1.12  Dean Moriarty  replied to  Kavika @4.1.11    3 weeks ago

I have a little better understanding now. 

 
 
 
SteevieGee
4.2  SteevieGee  replied to  Dean Moriarty @4    3 weeks ago

There's not enough water up there for soybeans or corn or anything else.  You don't have to grow that much at $40. 1/8 ounce.

 
 
 
charger 383
5  charger 383    3 weeks ago

I think this is a good thing all the way around and I hope Paiutes do well

 
 
 
Freedom Warrior
6  Freedom Warrior    3 weeks ago

I fail to see why there’s anything good about any of this

 
 
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