The Healing Power of Cannabis

The Healing Power of Cannabis

Starting from the time he was a young man in the 1970s, Puyallup Chairman Bill Sterud has dedicated his life to the betterment of people. He was involved in numerous historic moves for the Tribe as it worked to regain its land base, establish solid financial footing in gaming and other business ventures, and ultimately become one of the most influential Indian tribes in the country. Born and raised on the Puyallup Tribe’s reservation in Fife, where he still lives on the original parcel of land allotted to his family generations ago, he continues to give social and political leadership to his tribal community. 

Naturally his Puyallup people are his first concern, and this in turn often leads to gains for the broader non-Native population on and around the reservation. Under Chairman Sterud’s guidance, borne on the shoulders of great Puyallup Chairmen before him, the Puyallup Tribal Council gives millions of dollars in contributions to local charities, arts organizations, food banks and services for the homeless, for road improvements and civic ventures… The list goes on. Now in this 21st century, Chairman Sterud is leading the charge to bring the Tribe into new territory – the realm of cannabis. 

“The Puyallup Tribe, we really believe that it’s a strong medicine and should be used by people who are in need,” the Chairman said. “Everyday more and more good impacts on people’s health are being discovered with cannabis, including glaucoma, nausea and appetite associated with cancer, to help ease the effects of radiation when cancer patients are being treated… They’re making strides in finding ways to use cannabis to help alleviate withdrawals from oxycontin, heroin, alcohol… It helps with sleep disorders, it lowers blood pressure… These could be just a small portion of it as they delve into that flower.”

His own use of cannabis for medicinal purposes goes back decades and has had a major impact on his glaucoma. “It’s always been my interest from when I first read that glaucoma pressure in the eyes can be lowered with the use of cannabis. I learned that when I was at the University of Washington in 1972,” he said. 

Given that the healing properties of cannabis have been respected by Native Americans going back millennia, it is no different with the Puyallup Tribe. Chairman Sterud’s first concern is to make high-quality medicinal cannabis available to the Puyallup tribal membership, and plans for this were started years ago, as the Tribe is taking a thoughtful and measured approach to bringing cannabis to the reservation. Much attention is being given to maintaining a close working relationship with state and federal authorities to ensure that all rules and regulations are being followed in this brand new market.

“We’re dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t’ in a good way,” as the Chairman stated it. “This is the fourth year that I’ve worked on this project and we’ve followed every regulation. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board is well aware of what we’re doing and so is the U.S. Attorney’s Office. We give them anything they want so that we’re all on the same page.”

The Tribe’s Salish Cancer Center is an exciting and new venture for the Puyallup Tribe that opened in 2015. Chairman Sterud spearheaded the Salish Cancer Center project when he returned from a trip to Hawaii where he met individuals with Stage IV cancer whose cancer-related tumors were destroyed through injections of oil derived from cannabis. “That’s when I came back and the Tribe bought the cancer clinic,” he said. The Center is located in the PTIM (which stands for Puyallup Tribal Integrative Medicine) Building in Fife and is operated by Salish Integrative Medicine, a Tribal corporation.

Also in the PTIM Building is Medicine Creek Analytics, a testing lab providing state-of-the-art cannabis testing and research. It is considered the best lab in the state (see a full story on the lab on pg. 21). It is operated by another Tribal corporation, PTOI Testing Lab, Inc.

The foundation for these businesses is an historic Marijuana Compact negotiated by the Tribe and the State of Washington, Governor Jay Inslee, and the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board. It became effective in late 2015, then was amended in 2016. It governs testing of recreational and medical cannabis products at Medicine Creek Analytics as well as the Tribe’s production and sale of cannabis products.

Staff at the Salish Cancer Center is anticipating the day when medicinal-grade cannabis can be administered legally to patients. “They definitely see a positive relationship in the treatment of cancer,” Chairman Sterud said of the doctors and nurses there. 

While the Tribe’s foray into cannabis was founded purely on the plant’s medicinal value to help tribal members, interest has grown to see just what’s out there in this new market. A grow operation in keeping with Washington State I-502 regulations is being built to cultivate medicinal and commercial cannabis that will ultimately be sold at the Tribe’s new retail cannabis shop in Fife. Formerly the Tribe’s high-end cigar and sports lounge known as Stogies, the vision for the yet-to-be-named rec shop is that of a first-class operation with easy access from Interstate 5.

“We’re going to have the largest collection of cannabis anywhere on the shelves and we’ll be selling it cheaper, packaging it better and offering it in a beautiful facility for customers,” the Chairman said. Plus, all cannabis sold will be tested in the Tribe’s Medicine Creek Analytics lab so that customers will know that what they’re buying is free of pesticides and other harmful substances. Chairman Sterud foresees a section of the new rec shop having an area just for medical marijuana patients.

“Everything is in the purity of the cannabis so we built a lab to make sure any cannabis we sell is pesticide free and with no mold. The lab itself has turned into a business where wholesalers who do the grows can have their plants tested as is called for in state law,” he said. “Research has been so limited in the United States due to drug laws and we’ve found a way that perhaps we can help in the developing of some of this cannabis into medicine for our people and for all people.”

“I’m really enthusiastic about the program we’ve initiated and I think it will go in a good way because we’re approaching it in a good way. It’s a medicine and that’s the reality of the thing, and in time I believe that it will be respected as a medicine. I’m shocked that I’m even talking about it in my lifetime. In this particular social climate on the Puyallup tribal reservation, it fits.”

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