Red Lake Nation Opens Minnesota’s First Adult-Use Dispensary

The first regulated sales of adult-use cannabis in Minnesota began at the Red Lake Nation reservation on Tuesday.
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Sales of regulated adult-use cannabis began in Minnesota on Tuesday with the launch of recreational marijuana sales at a dispensary located on the Red Lake Nation’s tribal lands. 

The Red Lake Nation’s foray into the adult-use cannabis market on tribal lands in northwestern Minnesota coincided with the statewide legalization of recreational marijuana. Under legislation approved by state lawmakers and Governor Tim Walz in May, possession of cannabis by adults 21 and older was legalized on August 1, although sales of recreational marijuana at state-licensed dispensaries are not expected to begin until 2025. But as sovereign nations, Minnesota’s Native American communities have the option of regulating cannabis production and sales on tribal lands. 

“It’s one of the few advantages that tribal nations have had, an edge on everybody else,” Jerry Loud, who manages operations at the Red Lakes Nation dispensary NativeCare, told WCCO News. “So we’re going to capitalize on this.”

NativeCare was established after the tribe legalized medical marijuana in 2020. The shop began welcoming adult-use cannabis customers on Tuesday, allowing tribal members and non-members aged 21 and up to purchase limited amounts of cannabis products. Tribal Secretary Sam Strong said he barely slept Monday night, anticipating Minnesota’s launch of regulated cannabis sales and the end of marijuana “prohibition.”

“It’s a big day,” Strong said. “It’s the end of this war on drugs that was really meant to repress minorities. So it’s only fitting that the Native American tribes are participating in this industry — we’ve been harmed most by the war on drugs. Now it’s time to flip that script and create an economic development venture that can help heal our community.”

Minnesota Legalized Weed In May

Walz signed a bill legalizing recreational marijuana on May 30, making the state the 23rd in the nation to legalize cannabis for adults. The bill, which was approved by the Minnesota legislature on May 20, allows adults 21 and older to use marijuana recreationally and to possess up to two ounces of cannabis in a public place, going into effect on August 1.

The legislation also legalizes the possession of up to two pounds of marijuana in a private residence and the limited home cultivation of cannabis by adults aged 21 and older. Under the legislation, adults are allowed to grow up to eight cannabis plants at home, including four mature, flowering plants and four immature plants.

Minnesota’s marijuana legalization bill also legalizes commercial cannabis activity, with regulated sales of recreational marijuana coming after rules are drafted and approved by the Office of Cannabis Management, a new state agency created by the legislation. The new agency will also regulate medical marijuana and cannabis products derived from hemp.

State agencies have set a target date of May 2024 to begin accepting applications for adult-use cannabis retailers, with dispensary sales of recreational marijuana anticipated to start in January 2025. Once regulated sales of recreational marijuana begin, adults will be permitted to purchase up to two ounces of cannabis, eight grams of cannabis concentrate and edible products containing up to 800 milligrams of THC, the cannabis compound largely responsible for the classic marijuana “high.”

Native American Dispensaries Taking First Shot At Market

The Red Lake Nation and at least one additional Native American community are taking the lead on regulated sales of adult-use cannabis with their own enterprises. Charles Goodwin, an enrolled member of the Red Lake Nation, made the first recreational purchase at the tribe’s dispensary. He told the Star Tribune that the day was a “long time coming” and that the dispensary is a “huge step forward” for the community.

At least one other Native American community also plans to regulate sales of adult-use cannabis on tribal lands. Last week, the Tribal Council for the White Earth Nation, also in northwestern Minnesota, voted to legalize recreational marijuana, with sales of cannabis beginning at a dispensary on its tribal lands expected to begin in the first half of August. White Earth Chairman Michael Fairbanks said that selling cannabis grown on the reservation represents a significant opportunity for the tribe. He expects the enterprise to be able to produce high-quality cannabis and sell for prices that are lower than the coming competition.

“It’s good not just for our constituents, but it’s good for all Minnesotans,” Fairbanks said in a statement to the Minnesota Reformer.

The citizens of White Earth Nation voted in 2020 to legalize medical marijuana and planned to open its dispensary in Mahnomen, about 35 miles north of Detroit Lakes, to patients on Monday. Sales of recreational marijuana to tribal members and non-members aged 21 and up are slated to begin shortly thereafter.

However, the tribal dispensaries selling recreational marijuana will not be convenient for most Minnesotans. The reservations for both Ojibwe tribes are not near the state’s largest population centers, requiring a drive of more than three hours from Duluth and four hours or more from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

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