The Shinnecock Indian Nation will break ground for a marijuana-cultivation facility on its Southampton reservation in the coming weeks, a leader said, as the tribe eyes the role of recreational marijuana sales for future economic development.

Newly reelected tribal chairman Bryan Polite said the tribe is working on a set of internal regulations for licensing recreational marijuana sales and that sales could start as early as September or before year end, but only after a vote by the entire tribe.

"We are working on regulations and hope to have something by the summer," Polite said, of internal laws that will govern how shops can sell the produce. How, and if, the program is open for sales by tribal smoke shops on Montauk Highway are "questions that have to be answered by tribal members" through a vote, he said.

And while the tribe expects any recreational-use regulations to mirror those expected to be imposed statewide, such as minimum age restrictions, Polite emphasized that the tribe has "100% jurisdiction" over on-reservation sales.

The federally recognized Shinnecock Nation is a sovereign government that sets its rules through a governing council of trustees and committees with full tribal votes on major initiatives. Last year, the full tribe voted to create a new economic zone that will house the tribe's first on-reservation Class II casino, with ground breaking happening this summer. The marijuana facilities will be located in the same zone.

New York State on March 31 legalized adult use of recreational marijuana but won’t license facilities to sell it recreationally for 18 months. Polite said the tribe plans to apply a fee to recreational sales, if approved, to use toward social programs, including law enforcement and education, on the reservation.

Meanwhile, the tribe is forging ahead with a plan for medical-use marijuana, which it has been working on for years. While previously awaiting access to a state database of patients, Polite said the nation will break ground on a cultivation facility on tribal land in the coming weeks, and begin sales to those with state-issued medical cards legally allowing use shortly thereafter. It is doing so in partnership with the firm Conor Green, under the tribal cannabis company, Little Beach Harvest. It plans a "modern dispensary," with a drive-through option and adjacent lounge.

Polite said the cultivation facility and medical marijuana dispensary will meet or exceed state standards for securing its cannabis facilities.

A state Department of Health spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to questions about the tribe's plan, or the reasons for the delay in granting the tribe access to the medical marijuana database. In early 2020, a spokeswoman said the department "is still reviewing the proposal." A message for a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also wasn't immediately returned.

Tribal vice chairman Randy King said the nation is "still working to get an memorandum of understanding with the state," but it will not wait for the agreement before finalizing sales.

King said the nation "wants to see progress" in marijuana sales after years of delays, partly tied to COVID-19.

Polite said the Shinnecock Nation applauded the state’s recent moves legalizing marijuana use and sales, including expunging the records of those charged with certain marijuana possession offenses, noting that those charged were disproportionately people of color.

In addition to returning Polite as tribal trustee with 181 votes, tribal elections this week also saw three others winning seats on the leading council: Seneca Bowen with 158 votes, Germain Smith with 140 and Kelly Dennis with 121. Three other members of the council did not face votes in the staggered term elections this year.

Meanwhile, the tribe is expecting additional federal assistance this year from a funding pool of some $20 billion set aside for tribal governments from the Biden administration's recently passed stimulus package. Polite has said the tribe could be eligible for between $2.4 million and $6 million.

Polite called the administration's plan a "once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve the infrastructure of the nation and create some sustainable programs."

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