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What Legalization Of Adult-Use Marijuana Means For Akwesasne

Mar 31, 2021

STATEMENT FROM SRMT TRIBAL COUNCIL - Governor Andrew Cuomo on March 31st signed a Bill by the New York State legislature to legalize and regulate “adult-use marijuana. Questions undoubtedly arise as to the impact of NYS’s legalization on our community in Akwesasne.

Does this mean community members are now free to buy and use adult-use (a.k.a. “recreational”) marijuana on our territory? Can I start a business to sell marijuana?

The answer to both questions is “No”; not under state law or under tribal law.

Under the newly enacted NYS Bill a “program” has been created by the State that will permit the growing, processing, and sale of marijuana under strict rules to be administered by a State “Cannabis Control Board.” It will allow persons 21 years or older to possess a certain amount of marijuana, even some plants in their homes, and to purchase a certain amount in dispensaries. It will also allow persons to obtain licenses from the Cannabis Control Board to grow, process, and sell marijuana.

However, none of this will happen until NYS actually creates the Control Board, hires staff to administer its new laws, and issues detailed regulations. Sales of legal marijuana will not take place in New York until sometime in 2022, perhaps even late in 2022.

So, “off reservation” people will have to wait at least a year, or maybe 18 months, and follow the strict rules applicable to use, possession, sales, and having a marijuana business.

Here at Akwesasne (the southern portion), the Tribe has been working steadily to obtain community approval in the cannabis area. A Medical Marijuana Ordinance has been approved, but not yet implemented. A Hemp Plan is soon to be approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

With respect to adult use, the membership approved the Tribe going forward with an Ordinance to legalize and regulate. Soon a draft Ordinance will be circulated to the community and at least three (3) public meetings will be held for input and education.

The Tribe’s Adult-Use Ordinance will permit within our tribal territory the use, possession, and sale of adult-use marijuana. But, it will — like New York State’s laws — do so under strict rules designed to protect the health, safety, and welfare of community members. At the same time, it will allow tribal members to apply for licenses to grow, process, and sell adult-use marijuana.

When will the Tribe’s Ordinance become law? Depending on the community comments and the Tribe’s creation of its own “Cannabis Control Board” and any further tribal regulations, it will take some time, but possibly not as long as the State will take. Our guess is that the law could be enacted in this year — 2021.

So, please do not assume that you can now legally use, possess, or sell adult-use marijuana on or off our territory. At some point, you will be able to do so. And, here at Akwesasne, you will be able to do so under the Tribe’s own laws.

Also, do not assume the Tribe’s Ordinance will permit open and free and unregulated use, possession, and sale. Depending on how the Ordinance eventually reads, it will have strict limits on all of these marijuana activities.

So, in conclusion, everyone is urged to be patient and wait. For off-reservation sales that will likely be at least a year or 18 months away. For the Tribe’s law that may be sooner however, a number of steps still remain to be taken.

The Tribe wants to do this right with the proper rules and regulations to allow for business opportunities and, at the same time, safeguard our community.


The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council is the duly elected and federally recognized government of the Saint Regis Mohawk People