In Minnesota, the Red Lake Nation council recently voted on July 11 to legalize adult-use cannabis starting on August 1. After that date, cannabis will be legal to purchase both for tribe and non-tribe members.

Legal recreational cannabis will become purchasable across Minnesota starting on August 1, although retail dispensaries will not be allowed to open for 12 to 18 months. First, state officials must create a regulatory foundation for dispensary licensing.

According to the Minnesota Reformer, the Red Lake Nation already has an operating medical cannabis dispensary, called NativeCare. After August 1, NativeCare will begin selling recreational cannabis, which puts the tribe in a unique position to benefit to become the state’s first recreational dispensary.

The only caveat is that the Red Lake Nation is located in the state’s Northern region. It’s about 30 minutes from Bemidji (south of Red Lake Nation), approximately three hours from Moorhead (on the western border) and Duluth (located on the eastern border), and four hours from the Twin Cities—aka Minneapolis and Saint Paul, the state’s two largest cities.

According to Red Lake Nation tribal secretary Sam Strong, selling legal cannabis offers many benefits for its tribal members. “We see this as a resource not only to reduce harm, but to also bring in resources to help our people recover,” Strong said in regard to cannabis’ ability to curb opioid addiction. Currently, the Red Lake Nation prohibits alcohol use on the reservation.

Strong also added that the tribe’s medical cannabis already meets state quality standards, including tests that verify it is free of contaminants. More information will be shared for cannabis consumers before the end of July.

On May 30, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed legislation to make Minnesota the 23rd state to legalize recreational cannabis. “We’ve known for too long that prohibiting the use of cannabis hasn’t worked. By legalizing adult-use cannabis, we’re expanding our economy, creating jobs, and regulating the industry to keep Minnesotans safe,” Walz said at the bill signing ceremony. “Legalizing adult-use cannabis and expunging or resentencing cannabis convictions will strengthen communities. This is the right move for Minnesota.”

However, he cautioned that state officials will need some time to get things rolling. “We’ll be getting some people into the positions to be able to run this,” Walz continued. “But I assure Minnesotans that a lot of thought has gone into this. A lot of the things learned in other states are incorporated into how we do this, and the thoughtfulness around this legislation gives us a really good guiding principle.”

In June, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz had announced that state tribes could get ahead with the pending cannabis legalization sales date. “I have toured the facility up in White Earth. It is a world class operation,” Walz said about the White Earth Nation tribe. “They have thought deeply about this.” According to the state’s recreational cannabis law, the governor can negotiate compacts with state tribes if they seek to take advantage of cannabis sales, but also “acknowledges the sovereign right of Minnesota Tribal governments” to regulate their cannabis industries even without a compact.

Early projections of Minnesota’s cannabis industry show that it could collect more than $1.5 billion per year by 2029, with more than 700,000 adult-use and medical cannabis patients in the state. Part of the newly passed recreational cannabis law allows low-dose hemp-derived THC beverages to be sold in liquor stores.

A handful of other Native American tribes across the U.S. that have embraced medical and/or recreational cannabis. In December 2020, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe in New York formed a partnership with MMJ BioPharma Cultivation with the intention of dedicating 20 acres of land to cannabis cultivation. In July 2021, the South Dakota-based Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe was the first in the U.S. to legalize cannabis after the Department of Justice published a cannabis memo back in 2014.

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