White Earth Nation legalizes recreational marijuana, will start selling in coming days

By: - July 28, 2023 7:59 pm

The White Earth Nation Tribal Council headquarters. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

The White Earth Nation Tribal Council voted on Friday to legalize recreational marijuana and could begin selling it on the reservation — to both tribal and non-tribal members — as soon as next week. 

The tribe follows the Red Lake Nation, which is on track to open the first recreational marijuana dispensary in Minnesota on Tuesday after the tribe’s leaders voted to legalize it earlier this month. 

White Earth Chairman Michael Fairbanks said in an interview that selling cannabis cultivated on the reservation represents a significant economic opportunity for the tribe, and that they expect to be able to sell a high-quality product at lower prices than other dispensaries. 

“It’s good not just for our constituents, but it’s good for all Minnesotans,” Fairbanks said. 

The two Ojibwe tribes will have a significant head start in establishing recreational marijuana businesses as adult use of the plant becomes legal across the state. Although adults 21 and older will be able to legally possess and grow limited amounts of marijuana starting Tuesday, dispensaries aren’t expected to open for another 12 to 18 months as state officials establish a licensing system. 

White Earth citizens voted overwhelmingly in favor of the tribe growing, regulating and distributing medical marijuana on the reservation in 2020, and over the past three years the tribe worked on cultivation. The tribe will begin selling medicinal marijuana Monday at a new dispensary in Mahnomen, about 35 miles north of Detroit Lakes, and then open sales up to adults 21 and over soon after. 

Fairbanks said the tribe also has plans to open a second dispensary on the reservation by September with a possible third location to open after that. 

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

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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.