The Changing and Challenging World of Tribal Cannabis

Being its own sovereign nation recognized by the federal government is different than a state’s regulated industry.

This story originally appeared on Marijuana Venture

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, forcing businesses to shutter their doors for months on end, few economies were hit harder than that of the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation in Southwest Washington state.

Though the tribe had diversified its interests with a variety of economic development, the pandemic meant closing nearly everything, from the Lucky Eagle Casino to the water park at the Great Wolf Lodge, the Marriott-branded hotel, and several restaurants.

“The tribe took a tremendous economic hit,” says Harry Chesnin, lead counsel for the Chehalis. “When COVID hit we closed all of our operations except the gas station and c-stores.”

The tribe continued to pay employees for 90 days after they closed to help them get on the state’s unemployment system, but eventually the tribe furloughed the bulk of its 1,600 employees.

The economic developments act as the reservation’s tax base, so the loss of revenue threatened the services provided to the tribe’s 900 members, 40% of whom are under the age of 18. Enter cannabis But in Washington, like in most states, the cannabis industry remained opened and like everyone else, the tribe’s business committee took note that sales not only continued, but increased. And though there had been some discussion about entering the cannabis business prior to pandemic, Chesnin says development “went into high gear as a result of the pandemic.”On […]

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