By Max Nesterak, Minnesota Reformer
RED LAKE — The first legal sale of recreational marijuana in Minnesota was made on the Red Lake reservation on Tuesday to a tribal employee before a throng of journalists and tribal leaders.
Charles Goodwin, a Red Lake band member and employee of the tribal dispensary, selected some Nudder Budder and Caramel Creme — two of 12 cannabis strains the tribe grows on the reservation in rural northern Minnesota.
“It’s an honor to be the first recreational customer,” said Goodwin, who was also the first customer when the tribe opened its dispensary, NativeCare, for medicinal use in February.
The sale was greeted by cheers and fireworks outside the dispensary, where more than a hundred people lined up to make purchases on the first day of legal adult-use marijuana in Minnesota.
The tribe’s new radio station, WRLN, blasted hip-hop from speakers in the parking lot and nearby a food truck handed out “free munchies” — hot dogs, cookies and water — to customers and onlookers.
John Webster showed up three hours early to be the first in line. He drove from eastern North Dakota and had never been to the Red Lake reservation before. He said he looked at the menu online but was still deciding which to purchase.
Charles Goodwin, a Red Lake band member and NativeCare employee, makes the first legal purchase of recreational marijuana in Minnesota on the Red Lake reservation on Aug. 1, 2023. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.
“We’ll get a variety of things and hopefully within a year or so there will be more dispensaries closer to home,” Webster said.
Red Lake’s NativeCare is the only legal recreational marijuana dispensary in Minnesota, as state officials have yet to establish a licensing system. That gives tribes at least a year’s headstart in the Green Rush to stake a claim of what’s projected to be a $1.5 billion industry.
“We’re proud to be the first,” Red Lake Tribal Secretary Sam Strong said. “We’re excited for people to come onto the reservation.”
NativeCare charges $50 for 3.5 grams of standard strains, like “Pineapple Chunk” and “Glue,” and $60 for premium strains, like “Hella Jelly” and “Super F’n Gassy.” Customers must pay in cash and can purchase up to two ounces at a time, which is how much the state allows people to have in their cars.
Red Lake’s tribal council voted to legalize recreational marijuana last month to coincide with the state’s law, which does not apply to the tribe on its reservation. Red Lake does not have to charge the 10% sales tax on marijuana that other dispensaries will.
Tribal leaders are optimistic about the economic potential of recreational marijuana for the tribe, one of the poorest in Minnesota. The reservation’s remote location some 250 miles north of the Twin Cities and its prohibition on alcohol means its casinos are less profitable than those closer to cities.
Strong said Red Lake plans to open two more dispensaries in the coming months on the tribe’s trust land in Thief River Falls and Warroad, where it also has casinos.
The Red Lake Nation grows 12 strains of cannabis for recreational and medicinal use, which it sells at its dispensary, NativeCare. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.
Tribal leaders declined to share how much revenue they expect to bring in, but said they employ about two dozen people in its grow operation and dispensary.
“This is going to be a huge economic driver for the reservation,” said Jerry Loud, executive director of Oshkiimaajitahdah, which oversees economic and social well-being programs for the tribe, including NativeCare.
“We went from seed to sale in less than two years, and we are right there with Vireo and LeafLine,” Loud said, citing the two non-tribal cannabis producers in Minnesota.
Using marijuana in public is not permitted on the reservation although people may consume it in the tribe’s hotel rooms designated for smoking. Strong said they also ask that visitors obey their other laws, including those barring non-members on backroads of the reservation and from fishing, boating or swimming in Red Lake.
The White Earth Nation has also established a grow operation and says it plans to open a dispensary in Mahnomen in the coming days, with two more possibly opening before the end of the year. No other tribes have announced plans to sell recreational marijuana.
Tribes may also operate dispensaries off reservation land, which will be regulated through compacts negotiated with the administration of Gov. Tim Walz.
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