Many tribal nations are developing sovereign cannabis operations. Chenae Bullock, a tribal citizen of the Shinnecock Nation in Long Island, New York, has been working in the cannabis space since 2016.
When her tribe passed a medical ordinance, it planted the seeds of what would become Little Beach Harvest, a dispensary located in the heart of the Hamptons.
Cannabis & Tech Today sat down with Bullock during MJBizCon 2022 to discuss her plans for
the dispensary and how retail cannabis could impact her tribe.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Listen to the full conversation at cannatechtoday.com/podcasts.
Cannabis & Tech Today: How did Little Beach Harvest come to fruition?
Chenae Bullock: Little Beach Harvest is our tribe’s wholly-owned cannabis business. We got into the cannabis industry back in 2016.
Our tribe passed our medical ordinance, and so we issue licenses within our community. We have our own cannabis regulatory division that issues licenses.
So Little Beach Harvest has a cannabis license. We don’t need a license from the state of New York, which is where our tribe is located. We’re right in the Hamptons.
We are in the process right now of building our 5,000 square feet dispensary. We broke ground on July 11, 2022.
We are doing everything from gearing up operations to hiring and looking at different brands. It’s exciting times for our tribe because the main thing is our tribes do not receive a lot of the benefits that most of the social equity groups do in the state.
C&T Today: Would you explain why Native American tribes are not eligible for state programs?
CB: We have our own separate government, so that means that we have to generate our own economic sustainability to sustain ourselves as a tribal nation.
So this [dispensary] is exciting because not only is it going to sustain us, but it’s also going to help with mental health. It’s going to help create jobs. I mean, cannabis, it’s just an awesome plant. It’s a healing plant and so that’s something we’re going to be able to provide for our community and others.
C&T Today: What are you most excited about as far as this dispensary coming to your community?
CB: I’m most excited about the fact that it’s going to be in the Hamptons, but it’s also going to be on Shinnecock land. It’s going to be a retail destination. A lot of people have never been to a tribal reservation.
A lot of people are not even aware that there are tribal communities still in New York, close to New York City. So not only is this a place where people are going to be able to come and purchase their cannabis, but it’s also going to be a place of education. It’s almost a gateway to Indian country, if you will.
We are also going to be having a wellness lounge that will be adjacent to our dispensary. So once that is built, that will also be an awesome place for us to be able to hold and facilitate a space for all types of conversations when it comes to indigenous rights, when it comes to cannabis, when it comes to holistic practices, and things of that nature.
C&T Today: What are some of the challenges the tribe encountered while setting up this business?
CB: The challenge with doing anything as a tribe in the state, it takes a government-to-government relationship. So when it comes to our tribes having businesses, we’re not just like any other business. It is a government-to-government agreement that has to be made.
And in our case, if we want to be able to buy wholesale from other registered operators in the state, we should be able to do so because they’re able to do so. But because we don’t have a license in the state of New York and our license is essentially issued from the Shinnecock Nation, the state has yet to recognize it as reciprocity.
C&T Today: What would you like people to understand about tribal nations participating in retail cannabis?
CB: People are advocating as people of color to have provisional language in policy. But if you’re leaving out the “other” — because you have Black, Latino, white, Asian women, and then there’s “other,” a lot of times Native Americans are not looked at as that [other].
States are often just saying, “Oh, well, [Native American tribes] can do their own thing.” Okay, yeah, but what about what we can do together as two governments here?
So when you look at how we govern ourselves on our very same lands, we have always held stewardship not only to the water, not only to the land, but to other humanitarians. So when you’re talking about cannabis, this is a sacred plant to who we are.
Not only are we going to enter this industry, we’re reclaiming this industry by being able to do this with our own policies and create our own economies. But that shouldn’t be separate from the overall industry. That should be able to have reciprocity, just like we allow reciprocity on our lands with other departments of the federal government or the state.
I don’t think enough people in the overall industry are aware of that. So it’s not that we’re being left out on purpose. I don’t think that’s the case. I think there’s just no awareness of it.
C&T Today: What are you most excited to see on the horizon for Little Beach Harvest?
CB: I am so excited to see our tribe do business at this level. I mean, historically, we are known as whalers. We taught the people in the Hamptons how to whale. The Hamptons essentially were founded on whaling.
Since there were so many laws that were made against our way of living, the wealth gap between us as Shinnecock people and the one percenters now that live in the Hamptons has widened. So this is an amazing opportunity for us to be able to sustain ourselves.
This article first appeared in Volume 4 Issue 4 of Cannabis & Tech Today. Read the full issue here.