Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel Converted Former Casino Into a Cannabis Campus

An abandoned Tribal casino on the outskirts of San Diego is now home to the Mountain Source cannabis store. The Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel closed its ailing, 37,000-square-feet Santa Ysabel Resort and Casino in 2014, and has since converted the property into a growing/cultivation operation, and cannabis-byproduct manufacturing facility, as well as a dispensary. The Tribe opened the doors to its cannabis storefront dubbed Mountain Source in mid-February, and next plans to expand with a cannabis testing lab and edibles bakery. Since 2015, the white arches of greenhouses have covered its two-plus acres of lands overlooking Lake Henshaw and Palomar Mountain, and flanking the former casino building.

The 700-member Iipay Nation declared and was denied chapter 11 bankruptcy when it shuttered its casino of seven years, including its Orchard Restaurant and Seven Oaks Bar and Grill. Additionally, Privatetable.com, the Tribe’s online interactive gaming site, is no longer active, and the domain is available for purchase, reported East County Magazine.

The Tribe entered the cannabis business to stay “economically alive,” Dave Vialpando, executive director of the Tribe’s Santa Ysabel Tribal Cannabis Regulatory Agency — and former chairman of the Santa Ysabel Tribal Gaming Commission, told The OC Register.

Santa Ysabel Resort and Casino operated from 2007 to 2014. (Yelp.com)

It remains to be seen whether the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel’s cannabis campus will revive the Tribal economy, as numerous obstacles stand in the way of not only the Santa Ysabel Tribe, but all Tribes across California.

For one, Tribes’ requests to join California’s licensed cannabis market have been ignored — meaning Tribes are inhibited from selling cannabis off sovereign, Tribal lands. Recreational marijuana is legal in the state, and the California Bureau of Cannabis Control oversees the industry at large.

“If they’re growing and processing and selling their own cannabis, that’s their right,” state cannabis bureau spokesman Alex Traverso told the Herald-Mail Media. “However, if they’re selling cannabis or other goods that came from the California market, that’s not allowed without a state license.”

Other Tribal Nations in the Golden State are watching as the Santa Ysabel attempts to carve a path forward for others to potentially follow.

Today, past the gated entrance to the Tribe’s homeland, and a nearly mile-long drive to the site of the former casino, cannabis sales representatives are taking orders on iPads that detail Tribal cannabis products ranging from marijuana varieties to edibles to CBD cream.  

And the Tribe is covering its bases to increase its likelihood of entering the state market. In addition to forming the Santa Ysabel Tribal Cannabis Regulatory Agency, Vialpando told the Herald-Mail Media that earlier this month, the Santa Ysabel Tribe and several other Nations united through the California Native American Cannabis Association (CNACA) in hopes of gaining access to the licensed California cannabis market. All CNACA Tribal members must have resolutions passed by their individual Tribal Councils. 

The 23 Tribes that comprise CNACA hope California follows a similar model to that of Washington, Oregon and Nevada — three states that have passed bills that allow Tribes to negotiate compacts with the state to regulate cannabis operations, akin to the way they oversee gaming.

For now, the Santa Ysabel Tribe will continue operating its dispensary, perhaps impeded by its remote location, but bolstered by its lower prices relative to most licensed dispensaries. Growing cannabis on-site allows the Tribe to avoid transportation costs, and the Iipay Nation doesn’t charge the typical 18 percent tax per sale.

“Per gram cost is about half of what it would be on a non-Tribal facility,” Vialpando told the Herald-Mail Media.