The Puyallup Tribe of Indians is taking another step in the marijuana business.
Earlier this year, the tribe opened a marijuana testing laboratory in Fife after signing a deal with Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Liquor and Cannabis Board. The tribe has now amended the compact to include production and sales of marijuana for medical or recreational use.
It is the third tribe to agree to such a compact, following the Suquamish and Squaxin Island tribes, according to the Liquor and Cannabis Board’s tribal liaison, James Paribello.
The Puyallup Tribe’s first venture under the amended compact: growing medical marijuana with the aim of improving quality of life for tribal members with cancer.
Tribal chairman Bill Sterud said tribal members have suffered through cancer as much as any community. Marijuana can be used as a painkiller, to improve appetite and to reduce nausea, according to the American Cancer Society.
“I think it’s really important that somebody take the lead in this industry and in this medicine and it just came around this time it was us,” Sterud said in an interview at the testing lab Medicine Creek Analytics, which is in the same building as the tribe’s cancer treatment center.
While the state Health Department does not maintain any data on the rate of cancer in the Puyallup Tribe, the American Indian Cancer Foundation says cancer rates among Native Americans are “often much higher than non-Hispanic whites.”
No marijuana plants are growing yet under the tribe’s watch. But the Puyallup Tribe is prepping a 5,700-square-foot warehouse on Alexander Avenue East in the Port of Tacoma area for production, according to Daniel Duenas Jr., the tribe’s executive cannabis director.
There’s no timeline for the start of growth, Duenas said. And plans for distribution of the medical marijuana haven’t been worked out yet either.
But once it’s grown, the tribe expects to test the marijuana at its lab, which checks cannabis for pesticides, heavy metals and other substances.
“We want to produce a good, clean, quality medicine that is tested at our lab because it’s all about the health factor of this product,” Duenas said. “Making sure people know what they’re ingesting or inhaling or topically putting in their bodies is a clean product.
“If they’re sickly already, we don’t want to make them worse by putting pesticides in their bodies.”
State law requires marijuana produced by the tribe to be tested by an independent lab if it’s sold to other companies. The tribe agreed in the compact that marijuana sold to nontribal stores will be tested, labeled and packaged in compliance with state marijuana rules.
There are at least 14 marijuana testing facilities in the state.
Inslee, in a written statement, said the new agreement with the Puyallup Tribe is “an important next step towards creating a safe and well-regulated medical marijuana system.” In recent months, the state has worked to incorporate the formerly unregulated medical pot market with the recreational marijuana system established after the passage of Initiative 502 in 2012.
“I am pleased that our state and the tribe have maintained a strong commitment to this effort,” he said.
The two tribes that signed similar compacts with the state currently have recreational stores. Paribello said in an email they’re “at least” trying to grow pot themselves, too.
The Puyallup Tribe might explore recreational sales in the future, but for now, Sterud says the focus is on marijuana’s medical benefits.
“It helps your diet, you’re able to eat, you’re able to sleep,” Sterud said. “There’s pain involved that this can eliminate without going through the hardcore Oxycontins.”
Walker Orenstein: 360-786-1826, Twitter: @walkerorenstein