Washington Tribes Leverage the Cannabis Economy

Remedy Tulalip is based in Quil Ceda Village, the Tulalip Tribes’ shopping/entertainment district, located off the I-5 corridor just north of Seattle. (Genna Martin, Courtesy Remedy Tulalip)

This article originally appeared in the June 2019 “Tourism, Agriculture & Natural Resources” print edition of Native Business Magazine.

Washington state led the nation in 2015 in developing a legal framework for cannabis sales on Tribal lands. Home to 29 federally recognized Tribes, at least six Tribes in Washington currently run seven cannabis retail operations, including the Squaxin Island Tribe, Suquamish Tribe, Puyallup Tribe, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, Muckleshoot Tribe and Tulalip Tribes.

The Suquamish Tribe became the first Tribe to legalize cannabis in the United States, signing the first-ever cannabis compact with Washington state in September 2015. The Tribe debuted Agate Dreams in December 2015 — the second marijuana store to open on a reservation in the state of Washington. The Squaxin Island Tribe beat the Suquamish to the punch, opening Elevation in November 2015.

Located on the Port Madison Indian Reservation in Kitsap County, Agate Dreams offers a large selection of recreational marijuana and a variety of cannabis-infused goods including flowers, concentrates, edibles and lotions.

Suquamish-owned Agate Dreams sells its own house-branded cannabis. (Courtesy Suquamish Evergreen Corporation)

The following year, in 2016, the Suquamish Tribe chartered Suquamish Evergreen Corporation to open Tokém Cannabis, its cannabis processing plant. Tokém Cannabis purchases cannabis in bulk from growers, processes it, and sells it at Agate Dreams, as well as at multiple state-licensed retail stores across Washington through the state system. The house cannabis is packaged and branded with the Agate Dreams or Tokém Cannabis labels.

“We have our own house brands where we sell ounces, pre-rolled joints [and more],” Windy Anderson, a Suquamish Tribal member and General Manager of Agate Dreams and Tokém Cannabis, explained to Native Business. The house brands are the most popular products at Agate Dreams. “We offer an ounce every day at $120 for an indoor premium cannabis ounce,” Anderson said.

Whereas other retailers in Washington aren’t allowed to sell house-branded products, Suquamish Evergreen Corporation secured an exception. “Under our Tribal-state compact we can,” Anderson explained, “so we own a pretty large market in our own apparel, shirts, vape carts, batteries, and those types of things.”

Situated in Suquamish, Washington, on the Port Madison Indian Reservation, about 45 minutes from Seattle by ferry ride, Agate Dreams is relatively close to the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe’s retail operation, High Point, which opened in March 2018 in Kingston, Washington, near Gliding Eagle Market, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe’s convenience store and gas station.

Collaborating Like Cheech & Chong  

Suquamish Evergreen Corporation maintains close relationships with its neighbor High Point, as well as with other Tribes in the cannabis industry, including utilizing the Puyallup Tribe’s testing facility, Medicine Creek Analytics, to measure cannabis safety and purity. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board-licensed nonprofit lab detects cannabis potency and moisture, in addition to monitoring for microbes, contaminants, pesticides and heavy metals.

In addition to Medicine Creek Analytics, the Puyallup Tribe operates two cannabis retail outfits. Its first, Commencement Bay Cannabis, opened in Fife in February 2017, and its second retail outlet of the same name debuted in the Tacoma area on 4/20 — the unofficial celebratory day of cannabis use — complete with a grand opening featuring Comedy Grammy-award winners Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong, co-stars of popular ’70s and ’80s stoner flicks.

Both Commencement Bay Cannabis retailers are operated under Puyallup Tribal Cannabis Enterprises, formed to create jobs and career paths, while contributing to the local economy. “This store means a lot,” said Puyallup Tribal Council Chairman Bill Sterud at the Tacoma store’s launch in April. “It’s economic development at its best. It’s medicine at its best. It’s people getting together at its best.”

Washington’s First Cannabis Drive-Thru 

Each Tribal cannabis retailer boasts its unique competitive advantage. In June 2018, the Muckleshoot Tribe became the first cannabis dispensary in the state to offer a drive-thru window — “a hit because it allows customers to pull right up, peruse our menu, order, and drive away with their purchases all while remaining discreet,” Audria Jaggers, General Manager at Joint Rivers, told Native Business. 

Located in Auburn, Washington, Joint Rivers also boasts the largest sales floor in the state with 86 linear feet of cabinet space dedicated to flower alone. Joint Rivers’ other distinguishing features include online ordering and extended hours of operation, beginning at 7 a.m. “Every morning we are greeted with a rush of customers that are ready to make their cannabis purchases along with their daily a.m. caffeine run to one of the local coffee shops,” Jaggers said.

Update: With the current coronavirus pandemic, Joint Rivers’s drive-thru window is closed, store hours are reduced, and all ordering is online. Just one person is allowed in the store at a time to pick up online orders.

READ MORE: Cannabis Sales Surge Amid Coronavirus and Social Distancing

The Muckleshoot-owned Joint Rivers was the first cannabis dispensary in Washington to offer a drive-thru window. (Courtesy Joint Rivers)

Cannabis Central 

While several Tribal cannabis retailers operate in remote areas, Remedy Tulalip, the Tulalip Tribe’s cannabis dispensary, opened its doors in August 2018 in the highly trafficked Quil Ceda Village. The Tribe’s shopping/entertainment district, off the I-5 corridor just north of Seattle, sees approximately 39,000 visitors daily, and even more on weekends. An estimated 15 million people step foot in Quil Ceda Village each year.

Tulalip may not have been one of the first Tribes to enter the cannabis marketplace, but it has approached it strategically. Following the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) release of its infamous 2014 “Wilkinson Memo,” containing DOJ policy guidance to U.S. District Attorneys regarding marijuana on Tribal lands, Tulalip created the first Tribal regulatory arm in the state. Tulalip Tribal Cannabis Agency coordinates with the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board on policies and enforcement.

“Following release of the Wilkinson Memo we went to work on negotiating a strong marijuana compact with the state of Washington and also opened our own regulatory agency (Tulalip Cannabis Agency),” Tulalip Tribes Chairwoman Teri Gobin told Native Business. “Sovereignty has driven our approach to cannabis retail just as it did with gaming. Our experience with a highly regulated industry like gaming has been critical in how we approach cannabis.”

The Tulalip Tribes’ long-term vision for cannabis doesn’t stop with Remedy Tulalip or retail. It includes medical cannabis, and a multi-pronged, vertically integrated business approach — growing, processing, testing and selling cannabis. 

“We are currently sponsoring two research studies at Stanford University that are studying how cannabis extracts could be successful in treating addiction and Alzheimers. The opioid crisis has required us to think outside the box and find solutions that will help members struggling in addiction,” said Chairwoman Gobin, underscoring that cannabis offers a more holistic approach to medically assisted treatment. She added, “We plan to eventually grow, process, and test cannabis.”

Cedar Greens 

This section has been updated to include the opening of Cedar Greens.

The Jamestown S’Klallam Reservation is situated on the North Olympic coast, across from Canada on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where the Olympic Mountains meet the Salish Sea’s outlet to the Pacific Ocean. The beautiful scenery serves as the backdrop to the Tribe’s recently opened cannabis retail shop, Cedar Greens, which opened in October 2019 in Blyn, Washington. Complete with cedar columns and cedar siding, the store is framed by big boulders and plants in concert with the surrounding environment. The 3,500-square-foot standalone building features Tribal history and art. An in-store water feature sets the acoustics, while natural light filters in through a skylight, and an array of plants invites nature’s serenity indoors.

Cedar Greens, opened in October 2019 in Blyn. (Courtesy Cedar Greens/Facebook)

The holistic ambiance, interweaving Native culture, complements the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s unique approach to cannabis. The Tribe intends to create a naturopathic retail environment with a focus on healing and well-being that provides clients with information and education about the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

“We are hiring people trained as clinical cannabis consultants. We will have a consult room and medicinal products, both cannabis and non-cannabis, and we will be able to fill prescriptions from physicians at our site through an agreement that we have with the state of Washington. Our cannabis consultants can’t prescribe or diagnosis, but they can fill prescriptions and inform,” Kyle E. Johnson, Executive Director of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s Economic Development Authority, told Native Business.

READ MORE: Cedar Greens, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s Holistic Cannabis Outfit, Opens in Washington