The People Of The Water: Squaxin Tribe Open Cannabusiness On Federal Land

The People Of The Water: Squaxin Tribe Open Cannabusiness On Federal Land

Elevation - Located W 90 State Route 108 Shelton, WA
Elevation – Located W 90 State Route 108 | Shelton, WA

the people of the water border

Elevation is a recreational retail cannabis store located on the tribal land owned by the Squaxin Island Tribe in Mason County, Washington. Officially opening on November 12, 2015 at precisely 4:20p.m., Elevation is the first cannabis business to open on tribal land in the United States. This is significant for the cannabis industry—cannabis is still recognized as an illegal drug at the federal level, although it is authorized for medical use in 39 states and Washington D.C., and is acceptable for recreational use in Colorado, Oregon, Alaska and Washington State.

The Squaxin Island Tribe is known as The People of the Water, having lived and thrived along the southern shores of the Salish Sea for hundreds of years. Following Washington’s legalization of recreational cannabis in November 2012, the tribe observed legal cannabis stores popping up around the state. It wasn’t long after the first recreational cannabis stores opened in July 2014 that the Wilkinson Memo was released by the U.S. government’s Department of Justice. The Wilkinson Memo did not legalize cannabis on tribal land, but it did indicate where enforcement would be focused. This important memo from the government sparked the Squaxin Island Tribe’s interest in the cannabis industry further. By early spring of 2015, they decided to actively pursue a business in the cannabis industry and by November 2015, a precedent was set across the country.

The Squaxin Island Tribe’s successful foray into the cannabis industry has been viewed as a catalyst for other tribes in the United States to embark on similar journeys. In the recent past, many tribes have been involved in the gaming industry—helping them build solid economic infrastructures in their communities. However, not all tribal land is located near a populated area that would support such a large business. As we look forward, cannabis may be one route to economic stability for tribes who opt to go in that direction. The Squaxin Island Tribe’s decision to open a recreational cannabis shop will inspire future conversations about federal legalization of cannabis, medical research and the potential for cannabis to be used in minimizing drug abuse.

The Elevation Team pose for a picture behind the front counter.
The Elevation Team pose for a picture behind the front counter.

Before opening Elevation, the Squaxin Island Tribal leaders discussed community perceptions around cannabis involvement, potential impact on the community’s youth and the economic benefits. The Squaxin Island Tribe wanted to establish and maintain a healthy and diplomatic relationship with the state of Washington. While Elevation has been open for less than a year, they have future plans to reinvest in their community by funneling revenue towards education for local students and tribal government programs.

The Squaxin Island Tribe want to preserve the health and safety of their community, reduce black market cannabis sales in their community, establish revenue streams and legitimize cannabis as a worthwhile enterprise. Elevation is the result of that planning and hard work, fast becoming known around Washington for its great service and low prices. Owned by the Squaxin Island Tribe rather than an individual or group of people, the shop has become an important part of the local community. The revenue benefits the tribe as a whole and members take great pride in the businesses that have developed under their watch. The community continues to grow, learn and expand.

Wandering into Elevation, you won’t see any obvious differences between this recreational store and others. The shelves are full of delicious flower and other marijuana-infused items, and the staff knows its products. The range of goodies at Elevation is widely varied and covers all aspects of cannabis consumption. The staff’s focus is adding credibility to the cannabis industry for consumers and the wider community. Behind the scenes, Elevation is bound by a compact that was created by Squaxin Tribal leadership and signed by the Governor of the State of Washington. This compact directly parallels the I-502 legislation (the legal recreational cannabis state initiative); however, it is a compact agreement between the Squaxin Island Tribe, a sovereign nation, and the State of Washington. That does mean that Elevation is operating in a legal gray area with some risk, as based on the contents of the Department of Justice’s memo.

Elevation’s inventory is predominantly made up of cannabis products that are grown and produced within 30 minutes of the store itself. A wide variety of flower and a diverse range of concentrates from various extraction methods can be found on their shelves. The wide range of edibles offered includes chocolates, brownies, truffles, sodas, mints and tinctures. If you’re looking for some new glass, you can find a dab rig, bong or pipe in-store too. In addition, Elevation’s prices are low, a model that that the Squaxin Island Tribe use for their retail businesses—having a reputation for offering low prices across Mason County.

Full view of Elevation's interior.
Full view of Elevation’s interior.

the people of the water border


#Cannabis businesses remain illegal on federal land, despite Elevation being opened on Squaxin Island Tribal land. The Squaxin Island Tribe is a sovereign nation, and although they are held by charter to uphold federal law, they still operate in grey area and voluntarily adhere to their agreement with the State of Washington. The agreements were created to establish and maintain a healthy and diplomatic relationship between the Squaxin Island Tribe and Washington State. The Squaxin Island Tribe could have opened a cannabis business without the approval of the government, but opted to take a less-traveled route.

#Elevation is owned by the Squaxin Island Tribe rather than an individual or a partnership. Revenue produced will be funneled back into the community to support education and tribal government programs.

#Most of the cannabis flower in Elevation is grown within 30 minutes of the shop itself. Supporting local business! Elevation is known for their low prices too, so if you’re around Mason County, go visit the team!

“We would like to establish ourselves as a business that brings high-quality product to great customers at very reasonable prices. I do not see why people should be paying more for a product after it is legal.”-Michael Ogden, manager of Elevation and Squaxin Island Tribe member.

(Compact; An agreement, treaty, or contract. The term compact is most often applied to agreements among states or between nations on matters in which they have a common concern.)