Paiute Tribe Leading Cannabis Industry In Las Vegas Through COVID And Beyond


Curtis Anderson had seen his fair share of opportunity during three scattered terms as president of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe. But nothing ever came close to what the 75-year-old former school bus driver surprised during his fourth term.

NuWu Cannabis Market opened as the world’s largest legal cannabis store in 2017, just months after Nevada launched its adult market. By the time Anderson took the reins from former Presidents Benny Tso and Chris Spotted Eagle in 2019, NuWu and the newly opened NuWu North were cash cows – grossing the tribe some $ 4 million in sales each month and funding medical care, scholarships and a host of other benefits for its 62 local members.

The dispensaries have helped the tribe to figure prominently in marijuana publications and mainstream international media. When Anderson took over, the Paiutes had just opened their own tasting room and had plans for a massive cannabis day club-style pool, with powerful DJs, bottle service and all the 20-year-olds. in a swimsuit you might imagine.

“NuWu was already an empire back then,” he said. “And the sky was the limit for us.”

Almost as soon as the veteran president returned to lead the tribe, however, he encountered a challenge that no one could have anticipated.

Smell the virus

When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, it shut down the entire economy of Vegas. A special contract drawn up by Tso, Spotted Eagle and then-senator Tick Segerblom gave the tribe the legal ability to play by their own rules, so Anderson could have stayed open had he had it. desired.

Instead, he followed the lead of 50 other Vegas Valley dispensary operators with “an abundance of caution.” But people still wanted marijuana. During 2020, local demand for the plant skyrocketed as residents sat at home and cashed massive stimulus and unemployment checks.

While the immense 15,800 square feet of NuWu. the lobby was closed, Anderson decided to reopen the drive-thru after a few weeks. He immediately saw the deal he had missed.

“We had cars lined up a mile down the street,” he said. “You would have thought there was a big convention on our reserve. “

Serving hundreds of cars each day has done wonders for the Paiute’s record. But without quick thinking, it could have been a logistical nightmare.

Scramble to strengthen staff

Anderson’s first step was to add staff so NuWu could get the cars moving quickly. The Paiutes have brought in 60 temporary workers laid off by other dispensaries during the pandemic to create a Chick-fil-A-style drive-thru experience for customers. Having worked in other clinics, the new employees already had their state-required “agent” cards and could start on the day they were hired. Drive-thru has become so efficient with the extra staff, a company consultant said, that the average customer received an order just 24 seconds after placing it.

Then the tribe needed to make sure their supply chain could keep pace with the marijuana that was flying off the shelves of NuWu. Unlike most Vegas Valley dispensaries, the Paiutes do not have a growing or production facility. But they have the second best thing: other cultivators and producers operating on the tribal reserve.

Anderson didn’t have to look far for his weed. And because non-tribal businesses working on the reserve must also obey tribal law, the president of Paiute had the final say – not the state – on when and how long neighboring edible producers and manufacturers could stay open.

“They continued to work during the pandemic and they were also able to use temporary staff,” he said.

Delivery was another obstacle. As demand for door-to-door delivery skyrocketed, the tribe hired a third-party service to transport NuWu’s cannabis products to customer residences. To make it worth it and eliminate hundreds of small orders, the Paiutes have set a minimum purchase of $ 150 for door-to-door delivery.

“You really had to do it or you wouldn’t be able to keep up,” Anderson said. “There were just too many orders.

A model of success

How does a small tribe with little more than a golf course and a tobacco shop suddenly become a major player in cannabis in a large metropolitan city?

The Paiutes began calculating their move in 2016, after a failed partnership that left them dry on a proposed medical dispensary. A chance meeting between Segerblom and the tribe’s main Portland-based cannabis investor set the stage for an invoice in 2017 which allowed the tribes of Nevada to open their own cannabis stores. Rec was on the verge of passing, and the partnership with a third party was no longer necessary.

Weeks after the bill was passed, Tso and Spotted Eagle quietly opened the largest dispensary in the world at the time on part of the Paiutes reserve just two miles north of the Strip. They didn’t spend a single penny to market NuWu because they thought the dispensary would speak for itself.

Within weeks of opening the store, NuWu was carrying 1,000 products from almost a small handful of the state’s hundreds of growers and producers. NuWu also had Nevada’s only drive-thru thanks to Segerblom’s law passed earlier that year. Local municipalities in the state had imposed a drive-thru ban, but the Paiutes could play by their own rules.

Tso and his investors then came up with a host of other successful ideas: an $ 11,000 cannabis cigar, a live spot on Jimmy Kimmel Live and a partnership with the Las Vegas Lights football team.

Finally, Tso opened a second, smaller store about 20 miles northeast on another patch of his tribal lands. NuWu North was only 6,000 square feet, but its drive-thru got people in the Vegas Valley northwest through.

And the Vegas Tasting Room, open at the end of 2019, is exactly as the name suggests: $ 5 for a small blunt, $ 8 for a bong rip and $ 9 dabs in a luxuriously appointed area inside the flagship Paiutes dispensary. .

The tribe’s wallet, essentially built in just two years, still has the Paiutes in mind. And its competitors readily admit it.

David Goldwater, a prominent cannabis lobbyist and owner of the Inyo dispensary just east of the Strip, said only two dispensaries sit head and shoulders above the rest of the industry. Even with the changing landscape as foreign companies settle in to buy out local businesses, NuWu’s infrastructure and preferential state policies have ensured the tribe’s success.

“These are the Paiutes and Planet 13,” Goldwater said. “Then there is everyone. “

Stay one step ahead

The Vegas Tasting Room won’t be alone for long. In June, the Nevada Legislature passed Assembly Bill 341 to legalize places where cannabis is consumed statewide. Regulators have set a target date of October 1 to finalize the new rules and start accepting applications, meaning the first shows could open as early as spring 2022.

The tribe’s two dispensaries also face increasing competition as multi-state operators like Curaleaf and Green Thumb continue to expand their footprint in Sin City. While the Paiutes currently serve some 4,500 clients every day, that number is at risk as more dispensaries open in the Vegas Valley this year.

With Tso and Spotted Eagle out of sight after switching to other non-tribal marijuana businesses, Anderson admits the Paiutes’ cannabis plans are not as ambitious as they were before COVID. The 11-acre land next to NuWu’s flagship dispensary, stabilized in 2019 to make way for a day club-style mega-lounge, remains vacant.

But for the tribal president and his members, the status quo will do for now. Anderson said NuWu isn’t done innovating, it’s just waiting to see how the market evolves.

“We do a lot of things very well and have an incredibly loyal local clientele,” he said. “We still serve tons of people from the Strip. As long as we’re here and doing what we do best, we’re going to be an important part of the industry for many years to come.

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