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Leech Lake Tribal Council votes to enter marijuana marketplace

Marijuana plants grow in a marijuana cultivation facility on July 6, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Miller
Getty Images
Marijuana plants grow in a marijuana cultivation facility.

The council approved a regulatory code, establishing the framework for the cannabis industry within the Leech Lake Reservation.

CASS LAKE — The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe set the framework to establish cannabis businesses within its boundaries.

The draft regulatory code Leech Lake adopted will authorize the creation of a commission to regulate all cannabis business activity on the reservation, as well as establish a licensing process. Three appointed members will govern the commission, with at least one of them being a Leech Lake Band member.

The Leech Lake Tribal Council approved the code after a few weeks of public comment before a special meeting Thursday, Aug. 31.

"We don't want to slow it down. We want it done the right way."
Leech Lake Tribal Chairman Faron Jackson, Sr.

Leech Lake Legal Director Christopher Murray recommended the band first move toward a tribally owned and operated dispensary before authorizing individual licenses.

"That will allow the regulatory structure to mature, time for the commissioners to learn what is necessary to regulate a cannabis business and develop a good set of regulations. It's inevitable that once we start licensing private businesses, there will be some effort to circumvent the regulations,” said Murray.

Tribal council member LeRoy Staples-Fairbanks III requested the formal resolution language include a specific timeline for when individual cannabis businesses could be authorized by the tribe.

“It's a generalized statement that I wouldn't want it to take 35 years for the reservation to license individuals to open their own businesses," Staples-Fairbanks said. “I understand getting in, figuring things out, but I'm about entrepreneurship and people not having to rely on jobs and unemployment and money through the government.”

Unlike the tribally owned and operated dispensaries that opened in August on Red Lake and White Earth, Leech Lake has no current plans to establish a growing operation as part of its venture into the cannabis industry.

Instead, Murray said the band, in its licensing framework, will require laboratory tested products that have been tracked from seed to sale.

“Down the road, when there's some experience in regulating cannabis businesses and the regulations have been well developed, then we would consider how to then move forward with regulating privately owned cannabis businesses, whether that be cultivation, other retail, and potentially processing or extraction,” Murray said.

Until the state has a licensing framework established, Murray recommended only the tribe, for now, will operate and own cannabis businesses on the reservation.

“Part of that concern is, that until the state has their licensing structure in place, if we license cannabis businesses to cultivate, process, etc., and then we decide not to buy that product from them, their incentive would be to take that product to the black market and sell it,” Murray said, “which would be one of the enforcement priorities of the federal government that our code really needs to effectively avoid.”

"We don't want to slow it down,” Chairman Faron Jackson Sr. said. “We want it done the right way."

Larissa Donovan has been in the Bemidji area's local news scene since 2016, joining the KAXE newsroom in 2023 after several years as the News Director for the stations of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting.