'It's about time': Celebration marks Red Lake Nation’s recreational cannabis dispensary opening

People purchase products at counter
People are able to purchase recreational marijuana for the first day of legalization in Minnesota at the NativeCare dispensary at the Red Lake Nation on Tuesday.
Mathew Holding Eagle III | MPR News

The sun peeked around rolling thunder clouds as people from other counties and neighboring states arrived at Red Lake Nation’s cannabis dispensary to participate in the opening day of legal cannabis in Minnesota.

People passionate about cannabis brought camping chairs and coffee mugs and waited in line.

The mood outside the dispensary was celebratory, as personalities from Red Lake’s radio station pumped music from giant speakers beneath a canopy in the parking lot. 

John Webster was among the first to step into the NativeCare dispensary Tuesday morning. A medical cannabis user in Maine, he had come from North Dakota where he says it’s harder to qualify for that state’s program.

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People wait in line outside on sidewalk
Customers wait outside the NativeCare dispensary at the Red Lake Nation on Tuesday.
Mathew Holding Eagle III | MPR News

“I was thrilled when I saw about the [Minnesota] law that was passed for today, for recreational marijuana to be sold,” Webster said. “It's like Christmas.”

Bill Skinner travelled three hours from Fergus Falls to support the opening of the dispensary.

“I am very glad they finally got a place open. It’s about time that Minnesota finally has done this. I am so happy. I am so, so happy,” said Skinner. “This is the best thing this government has done for people.” 

Inside the dispensary a large mural adorns the back wall overlooking a long well-lit display case with jars full of cannabis flowers. Behind the display cases, an electronic wall display advertises various strains of indica, sativa and hybrid cannabis.

Cannabis in jar
Cannabis in a jar at the NativeCare dispensary at the Red Lake Nation on Tuesday.
Mathew Holding Eagle III | MPR News

Another section of the store’s wall space is dedicated to selling the shop’s merchandise — water bottles, tee-shirts and sweatshirts with the store’s logo. Another display of beaded lighters nods to a tradition of Native American crafters.

A vendor from outside Red Lake set up a table with gummies. Greenwolf Hemp and Organics' Robert Wolf of St. Paul said, “I think it's great for everybody.”

Red Lake is able to sell recreational marijuana because the tribal council authorized it, and state law recognizes the sovereignty of 11 Native nations. It will take much longer for non-tribal organizations to begin to sell.

As Charles Goodwin, a dispensary employee, made his first purchase, onlookers cheered and slapped the Red Lake citizen on the shoulder in congratulations.

Person behind counter at store
A worker sells cannabis at the NativeCare dispensary at the Red Lake Nation on Tuesday.
Mathew Holding Eagle III | MPR News

“People have been looking forward to this day for quite some time,” Goodwin said, “It's great for people like myself. And look at the smiles from the people standing in line, it's obviously good for the whole state of Minnesota.”

Outside the dispensary, with fireworks filling the air, another line had formed in front of a Red Lake Nation food truck giving out free hot dogs and pop.

Erica Hart, a Red Lake Nation artist, set up her stand of earrings and necklaces hoping to tempt the large crowd from across the parking lot.

“This is the first time I’ve ever had the opportunity. I’ve have stuff with me and be able to set up so that if people want to actually buy, they can come by,” Hart said, “It’s pretty cool.”

People stand and pose
People pose for a photo at the NativeCare dispensary at the Red Lake Nation on Tuesday.
Mathew Holding Eagle III | MPR News

Red Lake Nation’s Secretary Sam Strong smiled as he looked across dozens of people waiting to enter.

He sees the opening of the dispensary as a part of a larger movement for social and economic justice.

“I think it's been a long time coming, not only for the tribe but for the state,” said Strong, “It is only fitting that the Native American tribes are participating in this industry. We have been harmed most by the war on drugs and now it's time to flip that script and create an economic development venture that can heal our community." 

 

A person talks into microphone
Samuel Strong speaks outside the NativeCare dispensary at the Red Lake Nation on Tuesday.
Mathew Holding Eagle III | MPR News

MPR News reporter Mathew Holding Eagle III contributed to this report.