July 16, 2021 14 min read
This story originally appeared on Marijuana Venture
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, forcing businesses to shutter their doors for months on end, few economies were hit harder than that of the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation in Southwest Washington state.
Though the tribe had diversified its interests with a variety of economic development, the pandemic meant closing nearly everything, from the Lucky Eagle Casino to the water park at the Great Wolf Lodge, the Marriott-branded hotel, and several restaurants.
“The tribe took a tremendous economic hit,” says Harry Chesnin, lead counsel for the Chehalis. “When COVID hit we closed all of our operations except the gas station and c-stores.”
The tribe continued to pay employees for 90 days after they closed to help them get on the state’s unemployment system, but eventually the tribe furloughed the bulk of its 1,600 employees.
The economic developments act as the reservation’s tax base, so the loss of revenue threatened the services provided to the tribe’s 900 members, 40% of whom are under the age of 18.
But in Washington, like in most states, the cannabis industry remained opened and like everyone else, the tribe’s business committee took note that sales not only continued, but increased. And though there had been some discussion about entering the cannabis business prior to pandemic, Chesnin says development “went into high gear as a result of the pandemic.”
On April 10, Thunder Cannabis opened on a piece of Chehalis land just off of Interstate 5 outside of Olympia, promising the lowest prices for customers and to be a constant, new source of revenue for the tribe.
“It’s a whole other income stream that the tribe is able to put in place to take care of their own,” says Lance Hanson, one of the owners of JKL