A seedling of hemp is seen in this photo.

A seedling of hemp is seen in this photo. Credit: AFP via Getty Images/FRED TANNEAU

Cannabis sales have taken place discreetly, but far from out of sight, for months at a handful of retail smoke shops on Long Island’s two American Indian reservations: small quantities for sale in various forms to regular customers.

The Shinnecock and Unkechaug tribal governments have yet to formally establish rules or issue general licenses, but a select few smoke-shop retailers, intent on catering to a regular clientele, have begun low-level sales in advance of the regulations. New York State's cannabis regulator says tribal members living on federally recognized reservations are allowed to operate recreational pot dispensaries.

While recreational sales aren't expected to start statewide until 2023, upstate tribal nations have been selling cannabis products for months, according to news reports. The St. Regis Mohawk reservation is selling them at nearly a dozen dispensaries, according to The New York Times.

Aaron Ghitelman, a spokesman for the state Office of Cannabis Management, which is setting rules and issuing licenses for state-authorized cannabis sales, in a statement, said, "Native Americans living on federally recognized, sovereign tribal land can choose to operate dispensaries that are not regulated under the New York State cannabis law, which has been done in other states that have legalized cannabis."

Asked about the Unkechaug Nation, which is a state-recognized tribe, Ghitelman noted the state "has the ability to enter into a compact with state-recognized tribal nations, including the Unkechaug Nation, to integrate them into the state cannabis program, if all parties come to an agreement.” He didn't address the issue of sales outside of a compact. 

At a shop on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Southampton, visitors are greeted by a cannabis-products display just inside the door. Marijuana is sold in quantities up to three ounces, with prices ranging from $200 to $290 an ounce.

At a shop on the Poospatuck Reservation in Mastic, a shop owner has created his own brand and regulars who are interested in buying hundreds of different cannabis products are led to a separate room, where two aisles contain everything from big jars of cannabis, to oils, edibles and paraphernalia. There even are CBD dog treats and cannabis soap.

Newsday interviewed three shop owners, two from Shinnecock, one from Poospatuck, on the condition that it not identify the owners or stores by name.

At Shinnecock, one smoke shop owner said he’s been gradually growing his customer base of about two dozen customers a day by word-of-mouth.

“We stay pretty busy,” he said, selling flower, or dried cannabis buds used for smoking, and edibles, including gummies and baked goods. He showed a visitor a backroom where cannabis was kept in large sealed, labeled bottles. Items for sale were kept in vacuum-packed bags.

The store requires each customer to provide identification and won’t sell to anyone under 21, in line with proposed tribal and state regulations. There’s security in the store, including a discreet guard and cameras.

Newsday recently observed four off-reservation customers shopping at the Shinnecock store. Two men who appeared to be in their 30s flipped through a menu and offered each other advice on which grades and brands brought specific effects. Another pair of shoppers were women who appeared to be in their 60s.

Inventory shown under the counter is modest, and nonusers would be hard pressed to tell it’s cannabis. Every sale is made to order, the owner said.

The store has a 3-ounce limit on sales. Sales range from $45 for an eighth of an ounce to between $200 and $295 for an ounce. The shop buys from licensed cannabis operations, some out of state, others local. When official state sales start at authorized dealers next year, the owner intends to buy from state-licensed dealers.

He said he began selling because “we didn’t want to keep turning people away” who kept coming in asking for it, after the tribe indicated it was prepared to start sales well in advance of others in the state in 2021.

Bryan Polite, chairman of the Shinnecock tribal trustees, said the tribal government is aware of the sales and is “taking measures to curtail it,” chiefly through asking shop owners to wait until the tribal rules are finalized and approved. Each shop owner selling cannabis would be licensed.

“We’re are trying to get our licenses out so we can curtail unauthorized sales,” he said, noting that only one entity, Little Beach Harvest, is licensed for recreational cannabis sale. Polite said the tribe’s cannabis regulatory authority, which includes two industry experts, is aiming to get the work finished in “the next couple of months.” He said the group is taking its time so that the program essentially matches up with state regulations and “is done in a responsible manner.”

The Poospatuck shop owner who has created his own brand for cannabis products also said his business is generated chiefly through word-of-mouth.

“Most people who come here for cigarettes also smoke cannabis,” he said. Business isn’t spectacular, he said, “but it’s growing, I can tell you that.”

Most people buy an eighth-of-an-ounce bag of cannabis, which sells for around $45. There are about 20 different varieties of cannabis, amid hundreds of different forms and applications. He doesn’t charge tax on any of the products.

Customers are primarily over 30, with many 50 and older. “You’d be surprised at the age gap,” he said. Many buy for medicinal uses, to help with pain, arthritis, and as a sleep aid. “It’s just not the stigma of weed,” he said.

The Unkechaug Nation has yet to implement cannabis regulations, but Unkechaug chief Harry Wallace noted, “Anything that’s regulated in the state of New York, we can self-regulate."

“Eventually there will be a set of regulations,” he said. "Every government entity needs to compile a set of rules and regulations and in that sense we’re not any different from any other self-regulating community.”

Cannabis sales have taken place discreetly, but far from out of sight, for months at a handful of retail smoke shops on Long Island’s two American Indian reservations: small quantities for sale in various forms to regular customers.

The Shinnecock and Unkechaug tribal governments have yet to formally establish rules or issue general licenses, but a select few smoke-shop retailers, intent on catering to a regular clientele, have begun low-level sales in advance of the regulations. New York State's cannabis regulator says tribal members living on federally recognized reservations are allowed to operate recreational pot dispensaries.

While recreational sales aren't expected to start statewide until 2023, upstate tribal nations have been selling cannabis products for months, according to news reports. The St. Regis Mohawk reservation is selling them at nearly a dozen dispensaries, according to The New York Times.

Aaron Ghitelman, a spokesman for the state Office of Cannabis Management, which is setting rules and issuing licenses for state-authorized cannabis sales, in a statement, said, "Native Americans living on federally recognized, sovereign tribal land can choose to operate dispensaries that are not regulated under the New York State cannabis law, which has been done in other states that have legalized cannabis."

Asked about the Unkechaug Nation, which is a state-recognized tribe, Ghitelman noted the state "has the ability to enter into a compact with state-recognized tribal nations, including the Unkechaug Nation, to integrate them into the state cannabis program, if all parties come to an agreement.” He didn't address the issue of sales outside of a compact. 

At a shop on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Southampton, visitors are greeted by a cannabis-products display just inside the door. Marijuana is sold in quantities up to three ounces, with prices ranging from $200 to $290 an ounce.

At a shop on the Poospatuck Reservation in Mastic, a shop owner has created his own brand and regulars who are interested in buying hundreds of different cannabis products are led to a separate room, where two aisles contain everything from big jars of cannabis, to oils, edibles and paraphernalia. There even are CBD dog treats and cannabis soap.

Newsday interviewed three shop owners, two from Shinnecock, one from Poospatuck, on the condition that it not identify the owners or stores by name.

At Shinnecock, one smoke shop owner said he’s been gradually growing his customer base of about two dozen customers a day by word-of-mouth.

“We stay pretty busy,” he said, selling flower, or dried cannabis buds used for smoking, and edibles, including gummies and baked goods. He showed a visitor a backroom where cannabis was kept in large sealed, labeled bottles. Items for sale were kept in vacuum-packed bags.

The store requires each customer to provide identification and won’t sell to anyone under 21, in line with proposed tribal and state regulations. There’s security in the store, including a discreet guard and cameras.

Newsday recently observed four off-reservation customers shopping at the Shinnecock store. Two men who appeared to be in their 30s flipped through a menu and offered each other advice on which grades and brands brought specific effects. Another pair of shoppers were women who appeared to be in their 60s.

Inventory shown under the counter is modest, and nonusers would be hard pressed to tell it’s cannabis. Every sale is made to order, the owner said.

The store has a 3-ounce limit on sales. Sales range from $45 for an eighth of an ounce to between $200 and $295 for an ounce. The shop buys from licensed cannabis operations, some out of state, others local. When official state sales start at authorized dealers next year, the owner intends to buy from state-licensed dealers.

He said he began selling because “we didn’t want to keep turning people away” who kept coming in asking for it, after the tribe indicated it was prepared to start sales well in advance of others in the state in 2021.

Bryan Polite, chairman of the Shinnecock tribal trustees, said the tribal government is aware of the sales and is “taking measures to curtail it,” chiefly through asking shop owners to wait until the tribal rules are finalized and approved. Each shop owner selling cannabis would be licensed.

“We’re are trying to get our licenses out so we can curtail unauthorized sales,” he said, noting that only one entity, Little Beach Harvest, is licensed for recreational cannabis sale. Polite said the tribe’s cannabis regulatory authority, which includes two industry experts, is aiming to get the work finished in “the next couple of months.” He said the group is taking its time so that the program essentially matches up with state regulations and “is done in a responsible manner.”

The Poospatuck shop owner who has created his own brand for cannabis products also said his business is generated chiefly through word-of-mouth.

“Most people who come here for cigarettes also smoke cannabis,” he said. Business isn’t spectacular, he said, “but it’s growing, I can tell you that.”

Most people buy an eighth-of-an-ounce bag of cannabis, which sells for around $45. There are about 20 different varieties of cannabis, amid hundreds of different forms and applications. He doesn’t charge tax on any of the products.

Customers are primarily over 30, with many 50 and older. “You’d be surprised at the age gap,” he said. Many buy for medicinal uses, to help with pain, arthritis, and as a sleep aid. “It’s just not the stigma of weed,” he said.

The Unkechaug Nation has yet to implement cannabis regulations, but Unkechaug chief Harry Wallace noted, “Anything that’s regulated in the state of New York, we can self-regulate."

“Eventually there will be a set of regulations,” he said. "Every government entity needs to compile a set of rules and regulations and in that sense we’re not any different from any other self-regulating community.”

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