ELKO – Will marijuana legally be sold in Elko starting this spring?
The City of Elko would like to know, but a presentation scheduled for Tuesday’s city council meeting by Elko Band Council Chairman Davis Gonzales has been canceled.
Elko Mayor Reece Keener said Gonzales asked to be put on the agenda but when Keener and Police Chief Ty Trouten met with him on Friday – a day after the agenda was published – he had changed his mind.
The discussion came up after the City learned that the Elko Band of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone had signed a pact with the State of Nevada allowing it to grow and sell pot on the colony, which is politically but not geographically distinct from the rest of Elko.
Gonzales told the Elko Daily Free Press that the Band Council would be putting out an official notice about its intentions soon.
The Elko Band held a “Cannabis Job Fair” on Saturday, seeking to fill the positions of “bud tenders, cashiers, cash manager, inventory specialists, and managers” according to a flyer posted at the Elko Smoke Shop off Ruby Vista Drive.
The positions were open to enrolled members at least 21 years old who can pass a drug test and background check. The drug test excludes marijuana, which is legal for medical or recreational use in Nevada.
Former Te-Moak Tribe Chairman Felix Ike said he only learned Saturday that the Elko Band was planning to open a dispensary on the colony by April 1.
“We questioned how this whole thing happened and they won’t answer any questions,” he said.
Tribal land is intermingled with City of Elko land. The Upper Indian Colony sits on the north side of Interstate 80, and anyone turning off Ruby Vista Drive into the colony might not even be aware they have left the City of Elko and entered tribal land.
Communication between the tribe and city officials is not as seamless. Tribal governments operate independently from local or state laws.
The State of Nevada has set up a system, however, whereby Indian reservations are authorized to open cannabis dispensaries.
Gov. Steve Sisolak and Gonzales signed a compact on Jan. 23 that allows the tribe to cultivate, process and sell marijuana on Elko Band property. The Band must collect a state sales tax as well as a tribal tax that is equal to at least the state sales tax.
Under the agreement, the tribe is to use proceeds from the tribal tax “for Essential Government Services or Community Social Programs.”
The agreement also says the tribe “shall be responsible for and address safety and enforcement issues in accordance with its marijuana code …” It does not state specifically what agency will be responsible for compliance checks, which are supposed to be handled within 24 hours of notification by the state.
Keener believes the agreement sets up an unfunded mandate for City of Elko law enforcement. The only law enforcement on the colony is under the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, and marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.
“The governor’s office signed off on this without any kind of vetting from the City or County,” he said.
The agreement can be terminated by the State with 60 days’ notice if the Tribal laws relating to cannabis are not strict enough or being enforced by the Tribe.
The agreement only applies to the Elko Band, not the entire Te-Moak Tribe.
The Elko Band has long operated a smoke shop on the colony, and has been looking at the possibility of selling marijuana since it was legalized for recreational use in Nevada in 2017.
The City and County of Elko both banned dispensaries but one opened in West Wendover at the end of December, and both Carlin and Wells are looking at the possibility of opening a second dispensary.
Dispensaries on tribal land operate under different rules. The Ely Shoshone Tribe opened one in October 2017.
Ely is approximately 190 miles from Elko, and West Wendover 110 miles away.
Keener said he does not view the controversy over a marijuana dispensary as being one of “the community vs. the tribe. It’s a community vs. drug issue.”
“The City has made a deliberate and concerted effort to keep a dispensary out of the community,” he said.
The mayor was disappointed that the Band Council canceled its presentation.
“I’m sure the council was looking forward to getting more information,” he said.
“We informed them,” Gonzales said.
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