By Glenda Anderson, The Press Democrat
A Ukiah Indian rancheria will soon be the site of what is likely California’s first tribe-sanctioned, large-scale indoor medical marijuana cultivation and distribution operation.
The 250-member Pinoleville Pomo Nation revealed Thursday it has entered into a contract with Colorado-based United Cannabis and Kansas-based FoxBarry Farms to grow thousands of marijuana plants on its 99-acre rancheria just north of Ukiah.
It’s the first of three such operations planned in California by United Cannabis and FoxBarry, a sign that marijuana cultivation is making headway in its voyage from being an illegal backwoods venture to a mainstream business. The locations of the other two have yet to be revealed.
Construction on a 2.5-acre indoor marijuana-growing facility will begin within a month and operations are expected to be underway in February, according to a spokesman for the tribe.
“We are very excited about the relationship with United Cannabis and FoxBarry,” said Michael Canales, president of the tribe’s business board.
FoxBarry Farms, which also invests in and manages tribal casinos, will fund and operate the facility on the rancheria, Canales said. The tribe also owns 100 acres near Ukiah High School but only the rancheria is held in federal trust, which renders it largely free of local regulations. The tribe is seeking trust status for the additional 100 acres, Canales said. It also owns several acres on North State Street, north of Ukiah, where it is planning to build a casino.
No dispensary plans
FoxBarry’s president, Barry Brautman, said he’s not certain how many plants will be grown at the new cannabis facility but expects there to be “thousands” growing year-round.
“We’re harvesting every day. Everything’s on a big rotation,” he said.
The marijuana grown on the rancheria will be distributed only to medical marijuana card-holding members and dispensaries, in keeping with state law, Brautman said.
“Our business model involves doing everything legally and by the book,” he said.
There currently is no plan for a dispensary at the site, Brautman said.
The 110,000-square-foot facility will cost about $10 million to build and will employ 50 to 100 people, most of them local residents, he said.
“There are a lot of people who know what they’re doing in this county” when it comes to marijuana cultivation, Brautman noted.
The workforce also will include security guards to patrol the fenced facility, Brautman said.
The Pinoleville facility will be growing award-winning, brand-name pot developed by United Cannabis, a marijuana research and development company, Brautman said.
“The vast research and science behind their development are what differentiate us from everyone else in this business,” he said.
Deal been in works
United Cannabis and FoxBarry recently entered an agreement under which FoxBarry will exclusively distribute United Cannabis branded marijuana products in California, he said.
The partnership with the tribe follows a U.S. Department of Justice announcement last month that tribes — which are sovereign nations — have the authority to legalize marijuana on lands that are held for them in federal trust. But the deal has been in the works for much longer, about a year, Brautman said.
He said FoxBarry’s attorneys already believed that tribes had the authority to set up such operations. The Justice Department’s statement confirmed their opinions, he said.
“Those laws and interpretations are not new,” Brautman said.
Ukiah Police Chief Chris Dewey said Thursday that he doesn’t know any of the specifics of the project but has some concerns in general about marijuana-growing operations.
“My most important issue would be that we safeguard people. We’ve had a number of home-invasion robberies in our valley,” he noted.
Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman could not be reached Thursday for comment.