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Minnesota's first-announced recreational marijuana dispensary will open Aug. 1 on the Red Lake Nation.
NativeCare, a tribal-run medical marijuana provider, said this week it will soon begin selling to recreational customers — all adults 21 and older.
Though the band could start selling recreational marijuana now, the decision was made to wait until Minnesota's new marijuana law legalizes possession statewide starting Aug. 1.
"Our intention is to be a good partner and ultimately fill the void for people who intend to use cannabis," Red Lake tribal secretary Sam Strong told the Star Tribune on Thursday. "Our goal is to provide a highly regulated, tested product."
While it will likely take at least a year until dispensaries are able to open outside reservation boundaries, Minnesota's tribes have sovereignty over marijuana regulations on their land.
So despite the remote location, NativeCare could become a destination for cannabis users and provide Red Lake Nation an influx of cash.
Strong said proceeds from sales will help Red Lake's efforts to fight opioid addiction and boost youth programs. Opening up recreational sales will also benefit tribal members and others seeking marijuana for medical use.
"The reality is many people wish to use cannabis for medicinal purposes but have problems getting access to dispensaries and prescriptions," he said. "We see this as a way to give access to that medicinal product."
While Minnesota's marijuana law sets out a process for the state government and tribes to negotiate compacts over taxation and jurisdiction issues, the legislation protects "the sovereign right of Minnesota tribal governments to regulate the cannabis industry."
The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe isn't interested in being the "first out of the gate," spokesman Michael Chosa said, but is asking band members this summer how they feel about the cannabis business. Leech Lake doesn't currently have a medical marijuana dispensary.
"It's nothing but a benefit to us as far as economics go," he said.
When hemp-derived edibles became legal in Minnesota, the tribe polled band members on their interest and those who responded were overwhelmingly in favor of selling them, Chosa said.
NativeCare was established after the Red Lake Nation voted to create its own medical marijuana program in 2020. The northern Minnesota dispensary said more information about its recreational sales, first reported by Minnesota Reformer, will be released this month.
The White Earth Nation also voted to create its own medical marijuana program in 2020 and could be poised to begin selling to recreational customers on or after Aug. 1.
This week the White Earth Reservation Business Committee approved a first draft of adult-use cannabis rules, which will go out to band members for comment over the next week.
"A lot of it is just for internal controls and ensuring we are running a well-regulated industry," tribal attorney Antonio Solorzano said at Wednesday's meeting.
Tribal chair Michael Fairbanks said at the meeting he wants to "find out the feedback we get from this, what direction is best for all of us."
Other tribal leaders contacted about selling marijuana in recent weeks either did not respond to the Star Tribune or said they are taking a slower approach.
In many states that have legalized adult-use cannabis, medical marijuana providers were allowed to sell to recreational customers while regulations for the recreational market were set up. That wasn't the case in Minnesota, which has a highly restrictive medical marijuana system.
As a result, Minnesota's first recreational dispensaries outside reservations may not open until early 2025 after the state creates the Office of Cannabis Management and sets up a licensing system.
Staff writer Jana Hollingsworth contributed to this report.