SALT LAKE CITY — The Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah is exploring getting into the medical cannabis business.
In a closed-door meeting last week with Governor Spencer Cox and members of his cabinet, the tribe told him they were interested in ways to make cannabis a tribal enterprise.
"From growing to cultivation sites to possibly having stores. But also, what it could mean for a tribe," Tamra Borchardt-Slayton, a leader in the tribe, told FOX 13 in an interview.
On Thursday, the governor met privately with leaders of all of Utah's Native American Tribes to discuss issues, priorities and ways the two sides can work together. The Paiute tribe had a number of discussion items, including medical cannabis.
Newly-elected tribal chair Corrina Bow told FOX 13 she believed medical cannabis could be good for the tribe in terms of access for those who need it, but also economic development in rural Utah. The tribe has five bands on lands in central and southern Utah, but she noted that not all of them are considering getting involved in medical cannabis.
"I think it would be good because we also have some of our elders that actually have been having to go out of state to get this," Chair Bow said. "It would be a great opportunity for a lot of them. A lot of them are in rural areas which need it."
Native American tribes across the country have started to legalize cannabis, both recreational and medicinal. But like states, the sovereign tribes run the risk of prosecution as marijuana remains illegal on a federal level. Borchardt-Slayton said some states have worked with tribes to set up cannabis sales operations, including Nevada.
The Las Vegas Paiute Tribe specifically owns and operates a 16,000-foot dispensary on its sovereign land in southern Nevada.
"That relationship is working. Their tribe is flourishing based on the economic revenue that is coming in," she said of Nevada. "Because of that, [the tribe is] able to offer more programs."
Gov. Cox's office declined to comment on the Paiute tribe's request, but FOX 13 is told cabinet members did offer to provide more information about the state's requirements for cannabis cultivation and sales licensing. The legislature has limited the number of dispensaries (that the state calls "pharmacies") that can be awarded, but has expressed a desire to expand access in rural Utah.
Asked how the governor responded, Chair Bow told FOX 13: "He seemed supportive. But you know, I’m not really sure."