Eager to claim their rightful piece of a burgeoning cannabis industry, members of the Mohawk Nation, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Tribes have signed an agreement to dedicate 500,000 acres of tribal land to future cannabis cultivation.
The arrangement was made possible thanks to the Native American Cannabis Alliance (NACA), described in a recent press release as a “joint venture” between Tim Houseberg, executive director of the Cherokee Nation-based Native Health Matters Foundation, and Everscore, a company which bills itself as the first direct-to-consumer marketplace for THC and CBD.
Announced in September, the agreement creates what amounts to a multinational sovereign alliance — one which also eventually plans on having the largest source of cannabis cultivation capacity in the world.
Indigenous farmers participating in the alliance “will become part of a sustainable, competitive and balanced ecosystem that benefits Native American communities, families and future generations while reclaiming their legacy of nurturing the land and providing sustainable profit and opportunities for the entire community,” per the release.
The need for such a change could not be more evident, especially as we live through a moment during which numerous local jurisdictions have attempted to implement social cannabis equity programs to varying (but largely limited) degrees of success.
Beyond the importance of recognizing the inherent right of tribal nations to occupy the lands they have always called home, achieving true equity in the cannabis industry also means ensuring that all who seek to have a stake in legal cannabis are given a fair opportunity to do so.
Naturally, there’s always a financial element to consider, which is why the Shinnecock Indian Nation — which recently announced plans to establish a vertical cannabis operation on their aboriginal tribal territory in Southampton, NY — chose to enter into a partnership with the vertically-integrated cannabis technology and infrastructure company Tilt Holdings Inc.
As Forbes reporter Jackie Bryant explained, what makes the deal between the Shinnecock Indian Nation and Tilt particularly exciting is the fact that the Shinnecock Nation will retain full ownership of the business.
“In other partnerships between companies and Native tribes,” Bryant notes, “companies often lease the land from the community or create lopsided partnerships.”
Similar issues have plagued social equity programs across the country, with cash-poor equity license recipients entering into unbalanced arrangements with predatory corporate interests as a means of amassing the initial money necessary to get their business off the ground.
In a statement, Shinnecock Nation Chairman Bryan Polite praised the partnership with Tilray and expressed excitement for the opportunities to come.
“Over the past few years, we have been working diligently to ensure that the Shinnecock Nation will be a responsible and positive addition to the New York cannabis market,” Polite said. “We have been impressed by Tilt’s commitment to building such an equitable partnership and believe that they bring the right kind of expertise at precisely the right time to help us become a leading operator in the emerging New York cannabis market.”
Meanwhile, the alliance formed by NACA seeks to facilitate a large scale connection between established commercial cannabis businesses and Indigenous farmers. According to MJBizDaily, potential forthcoming plans for NACA include building “a string of campuses that offer integrated solutions for cultivation, processing, manufacturing, testing and distribution” in addition to workforce development.
With an emphasis on a transparent supply chain and a promise to provide Amazon-like, technology-fueled access to customers, the deal between NACA and Everscore is poised to serve as a watershed moment for the future success of Indigenous farmers in the legal cannabis market.
Gary Santo, CEO of Tilt Holdings, summarized the situation well in a statement celebrating his partnership with the Shinnecock Indian Nation:
“To date,” Santo acknowledged, “Indigenous people have been largely excluded from the social equity conversation across the country. We believe our expertise in cannabis operations along with Shinnecock’s thought-leadership and cultural connection to plant medicine will deliver economic growth for the region, while cementing the Nation as a leader in cannabis operations among Indigenous communities.”
While it remains to be seen if these ventures will go as planned, they unquestionably represent a positive step forward in the never-ending quest for true equity in cannabis.