White Earth Nation dispensary becomes second in Minnesota to sell recreational cannabis

A small log building
The Waabigwan Mashkiki dispensary opened quietly on July 31 to supply medicinal marijuana in Mahnomen, Minn. on the White Earth Nation. Just days later on Aug. 3, it began selling recreational marijuana to tribal members and others.
Mathew Holding Eagle III | MPR News

It was a bit of a last-minute rush, but just after 10 a.m. Thursday morning White Earth Nation’s tribal dispensary in Mahnomen, Minn., opened for sale of recreational marijuana.

MPR News reporter Mathew Holding Eagle III joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer from outside the dispensary.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

KATHY: It was a little bit of a last minute rush. But just after 10:00 this morning at the White Earth Nation Tribal Dispensary in Mahnomen, well, it opened for sale of recreational marijuana. Our reporter, Matthew Holding Eagle III, is in Mahnomen right now outside the dispensary. He's on the line. Hey, Matthew. Thanks for joining us.


KATHY: I thought that the White Earth Nation was going to wait until next week to start selling recreational marijuana. What happened?

MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE III: Yeah, so the dispensary was supposed to open at 10:00 AM. Well, let me go back a little bit. Late last night around 4:00 PM, there was a presser, a press release, put out saying that they were going to begin sales at 10:00 AM today. And there was a lot of confusion. But it appears to have been squared away. And sales did-- are going on right now.

KATHY: Good. So you were at Red Lake on Tuesday when the Red Lake dispensary opened. And that was the first place that folks could buy recreational marijuana. How different is the White Earth setup from Red Lake?

MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE III: Yeah, it's much more casual on the exterior. The dispensary is a little smaller. There appears to be more of a focus on security, though. The first thing customers see after walking up a winding ramp once they enter the building is a security window. They slide their IDs through a slot to make sure they're of age.

And then, they're ushered through a locked security door, security door, which puts them in another room, where they can check out the display cases. There's a bunch of different strains of flower, which they're focusing on right now to sell. And then, just like in Red Lake, once they have the product that they want, they tell the worker. And they go behind another locked door, retrieve the product, and then bring it out to the customer and send the customer on their way.

KATHY: So have you noticed long lines? Are there are a lot of people there at White Earth?

MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE III: So the dispensary was supposed to open at 10:00 AM. And people did start showing up around that time. But they were turned away. And I got the feeling that it wasn't going to happen. But then, like you said, a little after 10:00, they did open for business. And I was told that little hiccup was just to ensure that the tribal council gave final approval to go through with sales.

KATHY: I know you talked with the White Earth Tribal Chairman, Michael Fairbanks. What did he have to say?

MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE III: He said, it's a great day for White Earth. And this will result in more opportunities and economic security for tribal members. He said they will be investing the money from the cannabis sales into social and wellness programs.

KATHY: That's pretty much what the folks at Red Earth said as well. Say, where's the cannabis grown at White Earth? Do they have-- are they growing their own?

MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE III: Yep, it's grown locally here in Mahnomen in the industrial park area part of town. And apparently, and perhaps appropriately, the building used to be a potato chip factory.

KATHY: Oh. [LAUGHS] I did not know that.


KATHY: So I know that last week, there was talk about White Earth maybe supplying other tribal nations with recreational marijuana in the future. Is the tribal council decided to do that?

MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE III: Wow. So given the challenges of today, I was told that they're just focusing on the present. Once that's up and running smooth, then they'll start thinking of what's next.

KATHY: All right. Matthew, thank you so much for the live report.

MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE III: You're very welcome.

KATHY: That was NPR News Reporter, Matthew Holding Eagle III, from the White Earth Nation in Mahnomen.

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