By Dylan J. Darling

The Bulletin

A surge of young voters helped a cannabis referendum pass overwhelmingly Thursday on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.

Tribal leaders certified the results Friday.

“The Tribal Council sought the opinion of Tribal Membership regarding the proposed project and Thursday’s results gives us direction on how to proceed,” Austin Greene Jr., council chairman, said Friday in a news release. “Overall, this effort empowered the younger generation of Warm Springs Tribal citizens who came out in record numbers.”

In all, 1,252 voted in favor of the referendum and 198 voted against it, according to the tribes. That is about 86.3 percent for it and 13.7 percent opposed. The turnout of 1,450 voters was enough to meet a tribal requirement of a third of registered voters casting a ballot for the vote to be valid. The tribes have a total of about 3,300 registered voters, and the voting age is 21.

Tribal members approved a plan to build a marijuana greenhouse of up to 36,000 square feet on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation near Madras. Sentinel-Strainwise, a partnership of a Florida investment firm and a Colorado marijuana grower and seller, is set to help the tribes establish the project.

Warm Springs Ventures, the business arm of the tribes, plans to lead the project.

For the past year Warm Springs Ventures studied how to develop a tribally owned and operated marijuana cultivation and extraction facility on the reservation. It would be the first of its kind in the state, and the marijuana would be sold in stores in Bend and Portland. But marijuana would remain illegal to possess or sell on the reservation, under tribal law.

The project is expected to generate more than 85 new jobs and “create immediate and significant net profits” of about $11 million to $27 million per year in the first five years, according to the tribes.

Jobs and added revenue are both much needed on the reservation, Don Sampson, CEO for Warm Springs Ventures, said in the Friday news release.

“The Tribe intends to be a leader in the cannabis industry and serve as a model for other Tribes nationwide,” he said in the release. “We will develop a highly regulated, safe, profitable, and legally compliant business that will benefit our community and support much needed tribal services such as education, health care, housing, and more on the reservation.”

In 2014 the reservation had an unemployment rate of 18.8 percent, with 325 people unemployed out of a labor force of 1,733, according to data from the Oregon Employment Department.

Tribal Council and Warm Springs Ventures are set to meet Jan. 5 to discuss the next steps, according to KWSO, the tribal radio station.

Initial plans call for the facility to be built this summer and the first marijuana sales held in about a year, according to Sampson, whom KWSO quoted in a Friday story posted on its website.

In recent years another economic project, an auto racing complex on the reservation, failed to earn support through referendum.

Legalized recreation marijuana came into effect in Oregon on July 1, and the tribes look to be at the forefront of cannabis production on tribal land, according to the KWSO story.

Too often the tribes have studied opportunities until they have passed, Carlos Smith, a tribal councilman, told the radio station. “This time though, I’m glad to see we acted in (a) timely way.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,