White Earth, Mahnomen County raid store for unlicensed marijuana sales

By: - August 4, 2023 11:51 am

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Law enforcement raided a tobacco store on the White Earth reservation on Wednesday evening for suspicion of selling marijuana without a license, in violation of state and tribal law.

The store, Asema Tobacco and Pipe, is owned by a White Earth band member and advertised on Facebook that it had cannabis beginning Aug. 1, when it became legal to possess across the state. The White Earth Nation’s tribal council voted to legalize recreational marijuana last Friday.

The raid was conducted by White Earth tribal police and Mahnomen County sheriff’s deputies along with members of the Paul Bunyan Task Force. They seized cannabis, but no one was arrested, according to Task Force Commander Dave Hart. Charges will be determined by the Mahnomen County attorney, Hart said.

Hart said law enforcement received complaints about the store selling marijuana.

“Marijuana isn’t something we particularly target … we’re busy enough with heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine,” Hart said. “In this particular case, it was a pretty blatant disrespect for the law.”

Calls to Asema Tobacco and Pipe were not returned.

In a statement, White Earth said it was cooperating with other law enforcement agencies and reminded residents that no one can sell or produce cannabis within the reservation without a license from the tribe’s cannabis control commission.

“The Band is committed to supporting businesses engaged in the legal sale of cannabis and cannabis products. Unauthorized sales of cannabis will be investigated in accordance with all applicable laws. The Band would caution everyone to use common sense when it comes to cannabis,” the statement said.

The White Earth Nation opened its tribal-run recreational dispensary on Thursday morning to little fanfare.

The dispensary — called “Waabigwan Mashkiki” meaning flower medicine in Ojibwe — is located outside the tribe’s grow operation in Mahnomen.

It was the second legal marijuana dispensary to open after NativeCare began recreational sales on the Red Lake Nation’s reservation on Tuesday. The tribal council voted to legalize recreational cannabis last month.

While adults over 21 years old may legally possess marijuana, selling it remains illegal in Minnesota until state officials establish a licensing system. That’s expected to take a year to 18 months.

The 11 tribes in Minnesota have the authority to establish their own laws governing the use and sale of cannabis within their own borders.

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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.