California Tribe Loses Casino, Wins Big On Marijuana

Maybe the grass IS greener on the other side. That seems to be the philosophy that one small Indian tribe from California is taking after their multi-million dollar casino operation went bust.

To clarify, it was the debt of the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel that reached $50 million – not their profits. In February of 2014, the surrounding casino competition proved to be too much and the Tribe was forced to shut down its 35,000 Sq. Ft. Santa Ysabel Resort and Casino. By early 2015, the Santa Ysabel tribe had decided to gamble on the prospect of a thriving new industry – medical marijuana farming.

From Poker Rooms to Green Rooms

The decision to turn its former gambling space into a medical marijuana cultivation space came after the United States Justice Department issued a memorandum stating that it would not prosecute sovereign tribal nations that grew marijuana on their tribal lands. This is applicable to tribes that own land where marijuana is already legalized.

Over the last year and a half, the Iipay Nation Of Santa Ysabel has leased areas of their former gambling facility to growers that cultivate the marijuana and then distribute the product to local California dispensaries.Dave Vialpando is the regulatory head of the newly established Santa Ysabel Cannabis Regulatory Agencyand Cannabis Commission that manages the operation. When asked about the legality of the canna-business, he stated that there have been no law enforcement issues.

“We have a highly regulated operation. The tribe has no ownership interest in cannabis. It doesn’t cultivate it, doesn’t process it,” said Vialpando. “It’s a highly regulated enterprise. We have inspections and audits and waste disposal to assure that no cannabis waste leaves the reservation.”

More Cannabis

The former officer of the California Justice Department also noted that the project is still in its infancy, but is already showing promise. Currently, there are two grow rooms with around 1,000 plants and both of these numbers are expected to increase. The cannabis industry has given the 700-member tribe an opportunity to regain their financial stability in ways that their casino operation was not able to. Looking to the future, Vialpando expects additional cannabis products to be created including lotions and similar goods.

“It won’t be all cultivation,” he stated. “There will be processing rooms and trimming rooms and storage rooms. There’s a lot of infrastructure that goes with the enterprise of medical cannabis.”

A Wise Bet

When the Tribe lost their casino and received the legal memo a few short months later, many said that it felt “serendipitous”. It is also quite a coincidence that the location of casino happened to be on top a secluded hilltop, making it an ideal location for a cannabis operation. In addition, the isolated facility also houses an armed security team.

All in all, it seems to us at the luck is changing for the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel and they may have finally hit big with their new business venture.

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