Curtis Anderson had seen his fair share of opportunities during three scattered terms as chairman of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe. But nothing ever came close to what the 75-year-old former school bus driver caught in his fourth term.
NuWu Cannabis Marketplace opened as the world’s largest legal cannabis store back in 2017, just months after Nevada launched its adult-use market. By the time Anderson took the reins from former chairmen Benny Tso and Chris Spotted Eagle in 2019, NuWu and the recently opened NuWu North were bona fide cash cows—landing 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 helped the tribe get featured front-and-center across marijuana publications and international mainstream media outlets. When Anderson took over, the Paiutes were just opening their own tasting lounge and had plans for a massive cannabis dayclub-style pool venue—complete with thumping DJs, bottle service and all the swimsuit-clad young-20s staffers you could imagine.
“NuWu was already an empire by then,” he said. “And the sky was the limit for us.”
Almost as soon as the veteran chairman stepped back into the tribe’s top position, though, he ran into a challenge nobody could have foreseen.
Feeling Out the Virus
When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, it shut down the entire Vegas economy. A special compact crafted by Tso, Spotted Eagle and then-state Sen. Tick Segerblom years ago gave the tribe the legal ability to play by its own rules—so Anderson could have stayed open if he wanted to.
Instead, he followed suit with the Vegas Valley’s other 50 dispensary operators out of “an abundance of caution.” But people still wanted marijuana. As 2020 went on, local demand for the plant skyrocketed as locals sat couped up at home