RED LAKE, Minn. — Bruce Klajda drove from Bemidji to be among the first Minnesotans to buy recreational marijuana in Red Lake on Tuesday, and he had plans for the gummies he intended to buy: dice them up and put them in his cereal.
"I have severe osteoarthritis and nothing seems to be working," he said, so he's thrilled to be so close to the state's first recreational marijuana dispensary.
A line of more than a hundred people, many cheering and dancing, queued up outside Red Lake Nation's NativeCare more than an hour before it opened. It was a festive scene with food trucks, a jewelry peddler and the tribe's radio station broadcasting live, with fireworks to mark the first sale.
The northern Minnesota reservation opened the first recreational marijuana dispensary in the state Tuesday, the first day Minnesotans could legally possess or grow the plant.
Red Lake Nation, a federally recognized sovereign nation covering 1,260 square miles, is unique among tribes in Minnesota in that it's owned and occupied entirely by its members. It decides who can visit the closed reservation and is governed by its own laws.
But the tribe and its citizens are happy to welcome others to town, said Jerry Loud, who oversees a Red Lake economic and social well-being program.
"People have probably never come to Red Lake, and now they have a reason to and see what we have to offer," he said. "We are truly capitalizing on this, and doing it the right way."
NativeCare, a tribal-run medical marijuana provider housed in a former grocery store, was established after the Red Lake Nation voted to create its own medical marijuana program in 2020. A survey then showed about 80% of its citizens approved of it. Loud said it took the tribe two years to go from "seed to sale."
NativeCare employees say they cultivate, process and package all their products on the reservation with a team that has more than 30 years of cultivation experience. Strains for sale Tuesday included Pineapple Chunk, Hella Jelly and Nudder Budder, with a standard strain costing $50 for 3.5 grams. NativeCare uses several Ojibwe terms on its website, including that for cannabis plant: zhigaagowashk.
Minnesotans ages 21 and older can buy up to 2 ounces of cannabis at NativeCare, but bring cash; no credit cards are accepted. An ATM is located across the street from the NativeCare store.
Charles Goodwin, an enrolled Red Lake member, made the first purchase.
He called the day a "long time coming" and the dispensary a "huge step forward" for the tribe.
Minnesota's tribes have sovereignty over marijuana regulations on their land. The state's marijuana law sets out a process for the state government and tribes to negotiate compacts over taxation and jurisdiction issues, but the legislation protects "the sovereign right of Minnesota tribal governments to regulate the cannabis industry."
Tribal Secretary Sam Strong said he hardly slept Monday night, anticipating the state's first cannabis sales and the end of its "prohibition."
"It's a big day," he said. "It's the end of this war on drugs that was really meant to repress minorities. So it's only fitting that the Native American tribes are participating in this industry — we've been harmed most by the war on drugs. Now it's time to flip that script and create an economic development venture that can help heal our community."
Red Lake also plans to open dispensaries on trust land in Thief River Falls and Warroad, and to a social consumption lounge on the reservation.
While other Minnesota tribes have said they are taking a cautious approach to selling, White Earth Nation — about 80 miles south of Red Lake — adopted a recreational marijuana policy last week and intends to open its medical cannabis dispensary sometime this month. It voted to create its own medical marijuana program in 2020.
Minnesota's first recreational dispensaries outside reservations may not open until early 2025 after the state creates the Office of Cannabis Management and sets up a licensing system.
Crowds at Red Lake on Tuesday endured a drenching afternoon rainstorm. Strong bought tar paper, ponchos and garbage bags from a nearby store to help cover the waiting line that had swelled to more than 200. The celebration continued.
For Blackduck resident Terry Boal Leinbach, 73, Tuesday was "a historic day."
A marijuana user since she was 18, she's waited a lifetime for its legalization.
"I'm tired of breaking the law," she said with a grin.
Staff writer Brooks Johnson contributed to this story.