The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, or also known as Kanienkehaka, recently announced the signing of a pharmaceutical marijuana development agreement with MMJ Biopharma Cultivation.
The reservation located in Hogansburg, NY and is adjacent to the Akwesasnereserve in Ontario and Quebec across the St. Lawrence River. Approximately 3000 American Indians call it home.
The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has a long history of medical innovation: In 2017, the multinational pharma company Allergan agreed to transfer six patents for the ophthalmic form of its drug Restasis to the tribe. The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe considers the MMJ BioPharma cannabis cultivation deal to be a significant opportunity to expand and diversify its revenue sources.
Scott Freeman, CEO of Tewáthahón:ni Corporation, the tribal holding company that manages the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s business ventures, said he expects DEA officials to approve the cultivation license soon.
The joint development agreement arrives after two years of talks, during a hazardous pandemic that has taken a disproportionate toll on Indigenous communities across North America.
“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” Freeman stated.
He explained that the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort serves as the tribe’s main revenue source, but COVID-19 restrictions cut deeply into its business, making economic diversification more urgent than ever. The casino closed in mid-March and reopened at the end of August.
“The casino business is based on volume, patronage, and customer count, and quite frankly, discretionary and disposable income,” Freeman said. “In a pandemic or an economic decline, many of those things go by the wayside.”
Freeman said Tewáthahón:ni Corporation joined with MMJ BioPharma Cultivation because of the firm’s industry credentials and its commitment to communicating with the tribe.
MMJ BioPharma Cultivation will farm medical-grade cannabis varieties on federally recognized sovereign tribal land, breeding each plant to ensure predetermined ratios of selected cannabinoids. MMJ intends to look after all aspects of the production process, including acquiring initial planting materials, to meet and exceed quality standards set by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). Additionally, MMJ will grow its cannabis products under computer-controlled conditions in its facility on the 20-acre cultivation site, enabling consistency at every stage of production and guaranteeing compliance with regulations issued by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Proprietary protocols for in-house refinement will prepare harvested cannabis materials for the final stages of pharmaceutical product development.
MMJBPC recently submitted an application to obtain the coveted Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Federal Marijuana Growers’ license. The cannabis cultivation company has also negotiated a supply chain agreement with leading pharmaceutical company MMJ International Holdings (MMJIH) to supply pharmaceutical-grade extracts - a key ingredient in MMJIH’s orphan drug for Huntington’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis. MMJIH has already received a DEA permit to import MMJ’s proprietary cannabis extracts into the United States to provide potential therapies for these lethal autoimmune disorders.
Dr. Elio Mariana, CEO of MMJ BioPharma Cultivation, stated, “Because cannabis is a federally controlled substance in the U.S., there are numerous, complicated legal hurdles that we have cleared in order to proceed with our cultivation plans. Our experienced teams have worked within the federal guidelines in hopes of accomplishing these significant goals.”
The struggles of North America’s Indigenous people are bound up in their very identity. To be native to a land is not to be poor or to struggle. To believe in sovereignty, to let it inform and define not only one’s political and legal existence but also one’s community, to move through the world imbued with the dignity of that reality, is to resolve one of the major contradictions of modern Indigenous life: safeguarding traditions that settlers and their descendants decimated while embracing societal change and often working with those same descendants.
Duane Boise, President of MMJ BioPharma Cultivation, stated, “My motivation in working with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe was simple: I wanted to do a good thing that would provide benefit for many people with one project. We hope to bring sustainable revenue to the Awkesasne reservation while using the cannabis extracts to develop an FDA-approved medicine that would help patients suffering from neuro-degernative diseases.”
“MMJ is already in the development phase of manufacturing a pharma-grade gel cap with FDA and DEA approval,” Boise continued. “Meanwhile, we’re speaking with several researchers and universities to further investigate applications for the extracts we will soon produce. The use cases are endless, and we’re one of the first pharmaceutical companies in North America to explore them. It all links back to a mutually beneficial relationship with the St Regis Mohawk people.”
Indeed, Indigenous reservations are not stagnant places. Despite staggering unemployment rates - a symptom of systemic neglect and the ripples of settler-waged genocide, among other causes - they are home to both time-honored ways of living and entrepreneurial ingenuity. Historically, our public imagination has limited tribal business affairs to casinos. While tribal gaming industry revenues ballooned from $100m in 1988 to more than $26bn in 2009 - more than Vegas and Atlantic City took in combined - little has changed for most American Indians. DEA-approved pharmaceutical cannabis cultivation offers another route forward.