By Megan Rubio / DOPE Magazine
Published on September 21, 2016
Native American tribes are often recognized for their success within the casino business and the tobacco industry. Over the past decade, as cannabis has become more accepted as a medical treatment, the industry has grown exponentially. In some places, where legal recreational cannabis use exists, there have been fears of the market flooding with all of the products being produced. The involvement of Native American tribes in the cannabis industry could very well allow legal cannabis to reach untapped markets and speed up the legalization movement.
One company, Ultra Health, is currently working with the Paiute Tribe in Las Vegas on two dispensaries and a cultivation facility. Ultra Health is headquartered in Arizona, providing business solutions in New Mexico and Nevada as well. One of the main goals of Ultra Health is to expand the influence of Native American tribes on the cannabis market.
Duke Rodriguez, the CEO of Ultra Health, explains that their company is looking to create business solutions and opportunities within the cannabis business from a healthcare perspective. Prior to entering the cannabis industry, Rodriguez gained experience with healthcare systems while operating as a cabinet member within the Human Services Department, as appointed by former Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico. He explained that his motivations for pursuing collaboration with native tribes were due in part to the many interactions and services provided to tribal nations during his work with the healthcare systems in New Mexico.
Rodriguez can go into detail about the advantage that native tribes would have within the industry. The US government recognizes native tribes as their own sovereign nations. These sovereign nations have latitude when it comes to creating laws within their lands. Whether a state has legalized medical or recreational cannabis, those laws do not bind native tribes. They can create whatever laws suit them when they are on their land. All that the government asks is that the tribes come up with a regulatory model for production and sales. Ideally, the models would be based off of the systems within states that have legalized.
All things considered, Rodriguez confirmed that it would be possible for nations that live in states with no marijuana legislation to build regulations and markets within those states. Through meetings with a number of attorney generals, Rodriguez quickly realized that the attorney generals within the states were far more likely to be supportive of cannabis markets on tribal lands as long as markets existed within the state. It’s obvious that Rodriguez is excited about the future of native tribes and the cannabis business. He explained that since the tribes have certain independence, they will be able to pick and choose which parts of the cannabis industry in which they want to engage. In a way, they will have more freedom than any other businesses within the cannabis field.
As work progresses on the projects with the Paiute Tribe in Las Vegas, Rodriguez explained how reciprocity would be instrumental in the future success of the business. States with reciprocity recognize the legitimacy of out-of-state medical cards, allowing for a medical marijuana patient from New Mexico to buy medical marijuana in Nevada, for instance. While Nevada is not the only state that allows for reciprocity, they have the most expansive and user-friendly policies.
Rodriguez makes it clear that it’s Ultra Health’s goal to first empower tribal nations in states where medical or recreational marijuana exists. He believes that tribes have a unique amount of freedom to create a new network of cannabis businesses and revolutionize the industry as we currently know it. Ultra Health’s dedication to relationships with native tribes was only made more evident when they signed up to be the primary sponsor for the Gathering of Nations Powwow. Ultra Health is the first medical cannabis company to sponsor such an event. Rodriguez described the Gathering of Nations as the “Super Bowl of powwows,” where the main focus is participating in the spiritual and social celebrations. While expanding the influence of native tribes is one priority of the company, Ultra Health is also dedicated to a vision of providing professional, quality healthcare.
Rodriguez is clearly passionate about the work Ultra Health does. Describing himself as a “healthcare junkie,” the company is modeled to be heavily steeped in medicine. Even while pursuing opportunities with tribal nations, Ultra Health is always aspiring towards something new. They recently established a relationship with a pharmaceutical company based out of Israel. It’s another goal of Rodriguez’s to bring more products to the cannabis industry that are typically traditional in the pharmaceutical industry. In partnership with native tribes, he sees a vision for the future aimed at expanding and legitimizing the cannabis industry as a healthcare solution provider.