For regular customers at specific retail smoke shops on Long Island’s Native American reservations, small quantities of cannabis are available.

Naturally, since New York has yet to implement regulations on its cannabis industry, such transactions are technically illegal on a state level. But within tribes themselves, rules aren’t as concrete.

The Shinnecock and Unkechaug tribal governments are still working out the details of their cannabis rules, including general licensing. However, a handful of smoke shops have been given the ability to start “low-level sales” prior to regulations.

According to New York state’s cannabis regulators, this is perfectly legal. As Aaron Ghitelman, a spokesman for the state Office of Cannabis Management tells us:

“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.”

Still, the Unkechaug Nation is technically a state-recognized tribe, rather than federally recognized. In such a case, wouldn’t that make their cannabis transactions illegal?

Ghitelman provides an answer: “[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.”

New York state itself isn’t expected to start sales until the end of 2022 or the start of 2023. With that, it’s no surprise many New Yorkers are picking up in neighboring states New Jersey and Massachusetts, where an industry is already established.

The news of certain tribes selling cannabis may promote the idea that other New Yorkers can get hands-on cannabis within their own state. However, as mentioned, these deals are exclusive to regular customers at these smoke shops.

An Inside Look at New York’s Native American Cannabis Dispensaries

Currently, the Shinnecock Indian Nation reservation, located in Southampton, is allowing sales of up to three ounces. While prices vary, a single ounce is costing customers anywhere between $200 and $290 USD.

On the Poospatuck Reservation, located in Mastic, one shop owner has developed his own brand of cannabis products. Select customers are offered a chance into a separate room where hundreds of cannabis products are on display.

Both shop owners were interviewed by Newsday, but their identities remain incognito for their own protection.

Initially, the idea of selling before the state came from urgent demands within the tribe. As one of the shop owners notes: “we didn’t want to keep turning people away.”

As of now, shop owners are purchasing cannabis from licensed operations – both in-state and out-of-state. Once cannabis is authorized next year, they intend to only buy from in-state licensed cultivators.

Naturally, such transactions have gotten the attention of government officials. With some informing tribal store owners to avoid selling until tribal rules are established.

Bryan Polite, chairman of the Shinnecock tribal trustees, told Newsday: “We are trying to get our licenses out so we can curtail unauthorized sales.” He continued claiming it would likely take a few months.

Still, it doesn’t seem like tribes are too worried. As Harry Wallace, Unkechaug chief, noted: “Anything that’s regulated in the state of New York, we can self-regulate.”

Since marketing these products isn’t currently allowed, most people figure out which shops are selling cannabis through word-of-mouth. And, according to one shop owner, “it’s growing, I can tell you that.”

With enough time, such activity will be considered normal and a part of legal daily intercourse. However, in the meantime, selling cannabis ahead of schedule can give both shop owners and tribal leaders a sense of how cannabis operates when sold legally. With such information, they have knowledge to better regulate the industry once legalized.

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