Red Lake Nation to begin selling recreational marijuana Aug. 1

By: - July 12, 2023 9:10 pm

The Red Lake Nation’s medicinal marijuana dispensary will sell recreational marijuana beginning Aug. 1, 2023. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

RED LAKE  — The Red Lake Nation’s tribal council voted on Tuesday to legalize recreational marijuana and begin selling it — to both tribal and non-tribal members — on Aug. 1.

The move could make Red Lake Nation the first entity to operate a recreational dispensary in the state, and gives the tribe a significant head start in the green rush to claim a piece of the projected $1.5 billion market.

While possessing recreational marijuana will become legal across Minnesota on Aug. 1, retail locations aren’t expected to open for another 12 to 18 months because state officials must first establish a dispensary licensing system.

The Red Lake Nation is well-positioned to launch a tribally run cannabis dispensary. The tribe already cultivates and dispenses medicinal marijuana on the reservation, having legalized medicinal marijuana through referendum in 2020.

The tribe’s medicinal marijuana dispensary, NativeCare, will begin selling recreational marijuana, said Sam Strong, Red Lake Nation tribal secretary. Minnesotans older than 21 will be able to purchase cannabis at the store in limited amounts.

Although Red Lake has an advantage in opening the first dispensary, it won’t be convenient for most Minnesota consumers. The Red Lake reservation is located more than 30 minutes from Bemidji, around three hours from Moorhead and Duluth, and four hours from the Twin Cities. Red Lake could also open dispensaries on tribal land near Thief River Falls and Warroad.

Strong said legalizing marijuana will help the tribe in its fight against the opioid epidemic, and that a share of the revenue will fund substance abuse prevention.

“We see this as a resource not only to reduce harm, but to also bring in resources to help our people recover,” Strong said.

Some research has shown legalizing cannabis corresponds with fewer opioid overdoses and death, although the evidence is mixed.

Red Lake and other tribes will also be able to operate dispensaries off reservations through compacts negotiated with the administration of Gov. Tim Walz.

Strong said the medicinal marijuana the tribe currently cultivates and dispenses meets high quality standards and is free from harmful contaminants.

Strong said the tribe will release more details for cannabis consumers before the end of the month.

Despite recreational marijuana becoming legal on the reservation, alcohol remains prohibited within the border of the Red Lake reservation.


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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.