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Hemp Shows Economic Promise For Native American Communities: 'We Want This Industry To Grow Here'

Hemp Shows Economic Promise For Native American Communities: 'We Want This Industry To Grow Here'

In the United States, Native American tribes live under sovereignty to the federal government, leaving community regulations up to tribal leadership.

The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill gave the United States' 573 tribal nations the same rights to regulate hemp as it did the 50 states. Since its passage, scores of tribes have joined states in submitting hemp production plans to the United States Department of Agriculture. 

The legalization of hemp provides many tribes with the belief that the plant could provide a needed jolt to the local economy and job market.

The world's industrial hemp market size is forecasted to reach $15.26 billion by 2027, with a 15.8% CAGR during the period, according to a February 2020 data report from Grand View Research.

Hemp Could Boost Native American Economy, Land

Several tribes have already received approval from the USDA to move forward with their hemp production plans.

The Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska received its certificate on Jan. 27, 2020. The document grants farmers the right to produce hemp once they receive permission from Iowa's Industrial Hemp Department.

Tim Rhodd, the tribe's chairman, told Benzinga that hemp is part of Iowa's plan to diversify the farm into other markets. Other offerings include honey, eggs and grass-fed beef.

"Being so remote, we’re looking at becoming the supplier for local resources," Rhodd said. "We’re bringing back the dollars into the community."

Bringing dollars into the community is crucial, considering the average job there pays $8 per hour, he said. 

"It’s hard for employees in the area to even pay for the gas to get back and forth from the job," Rhodd said. "For the employers, they’re doing what they can, but with $8 per hour positions, we get $8 per hour workers."

Calling the struggles "hard," Rhodd said he believes the Iowa tribe is correcting its market, with hemp playing a role. 

“Not only is this a new crop for us, but we’re integrating regenerative agricultural practices which we, in the past few years, have been uptaking,” he said. “We’re focusing back on the land and back on our community.”

In addition to boosting the economy, the Iowa tribe believes hemp will improve soil health and the job market, though no job estimates were given. 

Blue Quisquis, a member of the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians in San Diego, California, said he agrees. Noting how many tribes in the Midwest lease their land to farmers, Quisquis said the land often comes back riddled with chemicals and the ground stripped. 

"The impact [of legalization] could be greater in many, many ways," said the consultant to tribes across the U.S. and Canada. 

Parallels Between Cannabis, Gaming

Quisquis, a 20-year veteran of the gaming industry, said he diversified into cannabis five years ago after seeing parallels between the two markets.

“There's really no difference between a slot machine and the plant,” he said. “They're both highly regulated.”

While it's not necessarily the same, you can build upon cannabis from other industries, Quisquis said. 

Like the gaming market, which Quisquis said grew slowly over time into a $35-billion market, Native American tribes can do the same with cannabis, he said. 

The community self-governed and created gaming regulations when federal oversight did not provide clarity, said Quisquis, the founder of the California Native American Cannabis Association. 

Those steps included the creation of certification and compliance associations. Other measures include the development of Quisquis' cloud-based traceability platform, SINC IT. 

Purchasing Tribal Hemp For Infused Beverages 

One hemp partnership may serve as an indicator for tribal lands. Mood33, a hemp-based beverage line, is partnering with its supplier Evo Hemp to source its product from the Lakota tribe.

The company works with the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and longtime hemp advocate Alex White Plume. 

Mood33 has committed to buying the equivalent of $1 million in hemp, with 33mg in each bottle of Mood33 product, from the tribe over the next 12 months, said CEO Eric Schnell. 

The relationship with Alex White Plume and the Lakota tribe is not exclusive, which Schnell said is the correct approach.

"We don't want to be the exclusive buyer. We actually believe everyone should be buying as much [tribal hemp] as possible in the U.S." 

'We Believe In Hemp'

Dozens of tribes are waiting on USDA decisions; the process is moving along, with several receiving approvals since the turn of the new year.

The Iowa plan to make processing work more accessible, which means lower fees for those who are most economically impacted. Crop type selection has also been left open, allowing producers to use strains from around the world.

"These inclusive policies allow for a less risky decision when a farmer decides to produce hemp,” Rhodd said. "We want this industry to grow here. We believe in hemp, and we’re working to ease that transition for the stakeholders of our program.”

Quisquis’ tribe doesn’t intend to submit a plan to the USDA, he said, adding that he hopes to continue to be an active presence in the sector, educating tribes about hemp and advocating for social justice to include additional Native American representation in cannabis.

Related Links:

Ask Our Experts: Hemp And Native American Tribes  

Native Americans Add Cannabis To Their Economies


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