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Medical cannabis firm to sponsor Gathering of Nations

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Native people have a long history with natural healing and the use of herbal remedies. That’s why Gathering of Nations founder Derek Mathews says the powwow’s new title sponsor, regional cannabis producer Ultra Health, “is a great fit.”

Mathews said Wednesday that he and Ultra Health CEO and President Duke Rodriguez have signed a five-year sponsorship agreement with an option for another five years. Neither would reveal the amount of that investment, only saying it was “in the six figures.”

The Gathering of Nations earlier this year separated from the University of New Mexico, which hosted the powwow for more than three decades in the Pit basketball arena. The annual event will now be held on the grounds of Expo New Mexico, and its new formal title will be Ultra Health Gathering of Nations.

“It’s really great security for the powwow, long-term,” Mathews said. “When we renew our contract with the fairgrounds, Ultra Health’s investment increases.”

The Gathering of Nations has a four-year agreement with Expo New Mexico and an option for an additional four years.

The event is billed as the largest powwow of Native people in the world, attracting more than 3,000 singers and dancers from more than 700 tribes across the United States and Canada. The three-day event generates an estimated $20 million in local spending annually.

Arizona-based Ultra Health has seven locations in New Mexico – six dispensaries and one cultivation site. The company’s revenue from medical cannabis in New Mexico is about $5 million a year, said Rodriguez, a former chief operations officer with Lovelace Health Systems and the former Cabinet secretary for the state Human Services Department under Gov. Gary Johnson.

Ultra Health is looking to “reach out to the tribes because they feel the cannabis industry represents economic stability and because they believe the Indian casino industry has peaked,” Mathews said. “They’re looking at helping tribes invest in cannabis,” and having a presence at the Gathering of Nations will help convey that message, he said.

Ultra Health is building two dispensaries and an 84,000-square-foot cultivation facility in Las Vegas, Nev., on property of the Las Vegas Paiute tribe, Rodriguez said.

In January, a survey commissioned by Ultra Health showed that Native peoples were the population that looked most favorably on natural healing and the use of cannabis. Hispanics were the second-largest “favorable” population, followed by people with higher educations and larger incomes, Rodriguez said.

Ultra Health was recently rejected in its bid to be a sponsor of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

“They think it’s too soon,” Rodriguez said, but they were “open to reconsidering it in the future.”

There are currently 25,000 medical cannabis card holders in New Mexico and 35 growers.