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Ely Shoshone tribe's marijuana dispensary open for business
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Ely Shoshone tribe's marijuana dispensary open for business

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ELY – Sitting south of Ely on the way to Las Vegas is a convenience store and truck stop on Ely Shoshone Tribal land. Located there is Tsaa Nesunkwa, a medical marijuana dispensary that opened in October and now also sells recreational marijuana.

Tsaa Nesunkwa (pronounced zaah nuh-soon-gwa) is now Elko’s closest marijuana dispensary, 188 miles south on U.S. Highway 93, although it does not show up on any online marijuana store maps or even the state’s posted list of stores.

It began selling medical marijuana Oct. 21 and started selling recreational products in early November. The dispensary’s grand opening was Dec. 2.

The dispensary is the second one of its kind on tribal land in the state. The Ely Shoshone Tribe and Yerington Paiute tribes entered into a compact with the governor to sell marijuana after Gov. Brian Sandoval signed Senate Bill 375 into law June 2.

The Las Vegas Paiute Tribe opened a 31-acre marketplace Oct. 16 on land purchased by the tribe.

The store

Not just anyone can pull off the road and browse through the dispensary as though it were a tourist stop.

The dispensary is in the back of the convenience store. Although signs point to an unmarked door, new customers wander around the building a few times or ask a truck stop employee for directions.

Customers who step into the small lobby with six green chairs immediately see a small counter and partially open window. No one can enter the dispensary until proper identification and/or a medical marijuana card is produced.

Signs also inform people of a few additional facts about the dispensary: Only those over 21 with ID are permitted; no loitering; no consuming marijuana products on the premise; and cameras are watching everything.

After documents are checked, ID is verified by the employees, and the customer signs in, the solid white door is unlocked and access to the dispensary is granted with a loud voice that announces the front door has been opened.

Open seven days a week, customer flow is steady and lets up for about five minutes before another wave comes in, said owner Trent Griffith, an Ely Shoshone tribal member.

On the walls and in the display counters, items range from glass water pipes to vape cartridges to rolling papers to tinctures to edibles. Anything sold must be placed in childproof bags that are white on the outside and silver-lined inside.

“They are difficult to open,” Griffith said.

All products are labeled with the amounts of CBD – cannabidiol; CBG – cannabigerol; and THC – tetrahydrocannabinol. They are also tested for pesticides. Only organic plants must be used in producing products, said Griffith, adding that if the products do not pass the test, they cannot be sold and must be destroyed per Nevada state law.

“As far as I know, Nevada is one of the strictest for testing,” Griffith said.

He and his three employees help customers locate different products for their needs, especially those seeking treatment for ailments.

“We try to have what the people want,” Griffith said. For some customers, it is cannabis without the chemical that produces a high.

“CBD is non-psychoactive and works well for pain management,” Griffith said, showing products like Trokies and edibles such as gummies, chocolates, throat lozenges and mouth spray.

“A lot of people love Trokies because they’re so simple. You don’t smoke it,” Griffith explained, adding that some come in a ratio of 1-1 CBC to THC.

Because of the variety of medical conditions of customers, Griffith said he and his employees spend extra time working with them to find the right product.

“One thing may work for them, one thing may not. So you really have to pinpoint what will work. It’s almost like trial and error,” he said.

Griffith and his staff use a diagram in the shape of a wheel to help customers find their ailment and the type of cannabis terpenes needed to treat it.

“The medical patients are awesome about finding what works for them,” Griffith said. “Most of the ones we see suffer from cancer or surgery and have all kinds of medications [to take]. They’ve been able to ween themselves off medications with cannabis.”

Not just humans can find pain relief in medical cannabis. Dog treats with CBD are also sold for pets to treat anti-inflammatory effects, pain, tumors, spasms, seizures, aggression and anxiety.

“A lot of people love their pets and when they get old, they don’t move around as much as they used to,” Griffith said. “You don’t want to feed your pets THC because it’s not really good for them.”

The need

Griffith said he sees the dispensary meeting more than one need in the community. The first is to provide a closer outlet for medical marijuana clients than Reno or Las Vegas.

“A lot of them are so happy because we’re here locally [or] you’d have to drive to Reno or Las Vegas,” Griffith said, noting that customers have to spend extra money to travel, stock up on their limit and risk breaking the law for transporting an illegal substance.

“We do have some good traffic from Elko,” Griffith said, explaining that because of the heavy customer flow, he did not have exact numbers.

“It’s easier to come here that it is Reno.”

Griffith said the dispensary also gives people an option to avoid black market marijuana, something he said can be dangerous for his medical clients.

“I had a medical patient come in and say they tried something from the street and they didn’t know what was in it,” Griffith said. “They said it must have been treated with chemicals or something. That’s not what they wanted, [and] they came back to us.”

Finally, Griffith said the dispensary gave the tribe the ability to raise money for language programs, something that is needed to provide the tribe’s youth “with a strong base.”

“In my opinion, the language and the culture go hand-in-hand … those programs will help the tribal youth have something to do.”

The concept of using the store’s name, which means “to feel good,” was to attach the Shoshone language to “something big, like the dispensary,” Griffith explained.

When “nontribal members ask, ‘What does it mean?’ it gets the conversation going,” Griffith said.

Additionally, a portion of the tax revenue goes to the Boys and Girls Club. It was first offered to the City of Ely, which declined it. Griffith said he hopes the money will also benefit the youth of Ely.

“I’m hoping this store will help that program so we can help the greater community so they have something to do so they don’t turn to alcohol and drugs,” he said.

The response

Griffith said the store was “well received” by Ely residents, adding that medical marijuana customers were the ones who were breaking the stigma of marijuana.

“The people suffering are using this as a medicine, and it’s working for them and that’s really the number one thing,” Griffith said.

One Shoshone tribal member, a recreational user who did not want to give his name, said he was supportive of the dispensary.

“It’s not hurting anyone as long as it’s monitored,” he said, adding that the store keeps children safe from street drugs.

“They don’t have to deal with criminals or drug dealers,” he said.

Another customer said he was from Elko and that he drives to Ely now to purchase medical marijuana for an ailing parent. He declined to give his name because his employer tests for marijuana, but said he wished Elko had a dispensary.

“It would be nice if one was in Elko,” he said. “The other closest dispensary is in Reno.”

Mark Caylor is a second-generation Ely resident and said he has no problem with the business.

“I don’t use it, but I think it’s great,” Caylor said. “I hope that we see a lot of good from the revenue … that it’s helping someone.”

Dany Feinstein said she has lived in Ely for eight years and said she saw friends and family harmed more by meth, heroin and alcohol than marijuana.

“I’ve seen more damage done by alcohol and drugs, but I haven’t seen damage by people smoking pot,” Feinstein said. “I don’t believe it causes harm.”

The dispensary is “something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime,” Feinstein said, adding that she supports medical marijuana and responsibility in using recreational marijuana.

“I’m not encouraging people to go out and smoke it,” Feinstein said, but “if someone wants to and they’re responsible.”

“We do have some good traffic from Elko. It’s easier to come here that it is Reno.” — Trent Griffith, owner{/blockquote}

“We do have some good traffic from Elko. It’s easier to come here that it is Reno.” — Trent Griffith, owner

“We do have some good traffic from Elko. It’s easier to come here that it is Reno.”

-- Trent Griffith, owner

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Courts, K-12 schools & Spring Creek reporter

Staff writer for the Elko Daily Free Press

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