Upstate New York’s Cayuga Nation expands its legal marijuana business

Seneca Falls, N.Y. — The Cayuga Nation recently started selling recreational-use marijuana at its retail shops along both sides of Cayuga Lake. Now the Indian nation is branching out into cultivating its own crop.

The Cayugas say they will grow marijuana indoors in a 15,000 square foot building under development on their Gakwiyo Garden property, just off Route 414 south of the village of Seneca Falls. They hope to have it operating before the end of the year.

The Cayugas, whose ancestral homeland is centered on the north end of Cayuga Lake, have been selling marijuana since last fall at the tribal Lakeside Trading shop in Union Springs (Cayuga County) and the Cayuga Corner Store on Route 89 near Seneca Falls (Seneca County).

The new businesses join the nation’s existing Arrowhead Hemp enterprise, which has been producing and selling non-THC cannabis hemp products like CBD.

“Similar to the Nation’s other economic development initiatives, cannabis presents an opportunity to generate economic growth for the Nation and its members, while creating jobs for the community,” the Cayugas said in a statement released this week. “Developing our cannabis business is the next step in expanding and diversifying the Cayuga Nation’s economic opportunities and providing long-lasting benefits to the community.”

The Cayugas’ entry into marijuana (containing the psychoactive compound THC), comes as New York state continues to work through the launch and licensing of recreational marijuana businesses outside of sovereign Indian nations.

New York legalized the possession of small amounts of recreational marijuana as of April 1, 2021. It took months to set up the regulatory agency (the state Office of Cannabis Management) that is writing the rules an regulations for legal marijuana businesses.

The state recently approved a law that speeds up licensing for planting and growing marijuana, so seeds can be planted this year. Licensing for processing and selling is still months away.

But several of the state’s Indian nations, including the Cayugas, Senecas and Akwesasne Mohawks, have already set up, or at least allowed, marijuana businesses on their territories. They cite the sovereignty of their nations in starting ahead of state licensing.

Read more: New York’s Indian nations ramp up marijuana sales while state licensing lags

That’s not the only distinction for the tribal marijuana businesses. The state’s marijuana law prohibits businesses in most cases from obtaining both retail (sales) licenses and growing / processing licenses, to prevent “vertical monopolies.” There is a limited exception for the existing medical marijuana licensees.

The Cayugas say their tribal sovereignty allows them to operate both retail and processing (growing) businesses.

“As a sovereign nation, the Cayuga Nation can grow and sell cannabis within its reservation’s boundaries,” the Cayuga’s statement said.

Freeman Klopott, spokesman for the Office of Cannabis Management, previously told / that “dispensaries (marijuana shops) are legal if they are on federally recognized, sovereign tribal land.” He also said the OCM “has the ability to enter into agreements with tribes through tribal compacts to integrate them into the state program if all parties can agree to terms,” though no such agreements exist yet.

The Cayugas said they are working with Bergmann, a Rochester architectural design firm, to develop the growing facility. “The Nation is finalizing the blueprints before beginning the build — working closely with Bergmann to ensure the grow center meets all standards for security, safety and quality,” the Nation said in its news release.

Jake Brewer, who has experience as head grower for a Colorado cannabis company, will oversee development of the Nation’s cannabis businesses.

“Our vision for the future of the Cayuga Nation remains focused on bettering the lives of our members, our community, and our neighbors,” the Cayugas said in their statement. “As we venture forward in our economic development, we remain committed to working closely with local governments to ensure the health and safety of our community.”

More on marijuana and cannabis in CNY:

Weed on Westcott? Marijuana retailer eyes location in busy Syracuse business district

Syracuse church sues over illegal marijuana market’s ‘permeating’ pot smell; market booted

Illegal marijuana markets sprout up in Syracuse as sellers don’t wait for state rules

New York Cannabis Insider is hosting a virtual half-day conference on March 31 with a focus on banking, raising capital, opt-outs and Native American markets. Head here to purchase tickets.

Don Cazentre writes for, and The Post-Standard. Reach him at [email protected], or follow him at, on Twitter or Facebook.

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