Marijuana in Minnesota

Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe formalizes adult-use recreational cannabis on its tribal lands

A man points to a point on a map.
LeRoy Fairbanks is the District III Representative of the Leech Lake Band.
Monika Lawrence for MPR News

Updated: 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 1 | Posted: 6:11 p.m., Aug. 31

The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe has formalized adult-use recreational cannabis on its tribal lands, while taking a step toward opening dispensaries as other tribal nations have done. 

An ordinance passed by Leech Lake’s business council Thursday creates a regulatory framework for the sale and consumption of cannabis and cannabis products on its northern Minnesota lands, LeRoy Fairbanks, a district representative of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe told MPR News. 

Leech Lake Chairman Faron Jackson, Sr. said the band could begin operating a dispensary by the end of the year, with possibly as many as three dispensaries open to band members and non-band members alike.

“We have a couple of preliminary spots [on Leech Lake lands] that we’ve been thinking about. That’s still up in the air,” Jackson said.  

The new regulatory framework is intended to allow Leech Lake to move forward while at the same time giving the council the ability to amend as needed.

Jackson says he has taken policy direction from Leech Lake’s elders and military veterans.

“They have been purchasing hemp oil at Walmart and Target, and they use a little bit of that in their own homes even before cannabis was legalized on tribal lands,” says Jackson. “And it has some good medical benefits for them, helping them with their post-traumatic stress or anxiety and things of that nature.”

He says he is also carefully listening to band members who he says remain “apprehensive.”

Just prior to Minnesota legalizing adult-use recreational cannabis on Aug. 1, Leech Lake announced that Minnesota state law would effectively legalize adult-use recreational cannabis within the boundaries of Leech Lake reservation.

Unlike Red Lake Nation, an Ojibwe community just to the north, Leech Lake doesn’t enforce a separate set of criminal prohibitory laws on its lands. Leech Lake tribal police and county sheriffs enforce Minnesota’s criminal laws across the reservation. Leech Lake does exercise civil authority over their lands, such as regulating cannabis.

Like Red Lake and White Earth Nation which started selling about a month ago, Leech Lake could begin marketing cannabis products months before non-tribal dispensaries, which must be licensed by the state.

Leech Lake Legal Director Christopher Murray says in addition to allowing the band to operate dispensaries, they want to encourage entrepreneurship among Leech Lake band members. The new ordinance creates a cannabis commission to license businesses and regulate sales.

“The point of doing it in this way in setting up a robust infrastructure is to mature that regulatory body,” said Murray. “The eventual goal would be to open up entrepreneurship for band members across the reservation.”

Murray says the idea came from Leech Lake citizens who commented on the draft of the ordinance this past August.

“While there was support for moving forward with band-owned retail at this time, a large amount of the comments focused on allowing band members to develop their own businesses, and a lot of that was focused on cultivation.”

Murray says the state’s explicit respect for tribal sovereignty has meant that Leech Lake will chart its own course on how best to support its members.

“I think its really allowed the opportunity to take this approach and see how the community wants to proceed rather than having a top-down approach.” 

Correction: The above story clarifies an earlier version on the effect of Leech Lake leaders’ actions regarding adult cannabis use.

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