Michigan Tribe Is About to Create Its Own Legal Weed Market Free From State Control

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With Michigan’s combined medical and marijuana businesses expected to hit $1.5 billion in sales over the next year, one Native American tribe says it’s setting up some competition for those cannabis dollars.  

Bay Mills Indian Community (BMIC) announced plans this week to create a tribal marijuana market that will operate outside state regulation, starting as soon as January 2021. BMIC consists of about 2,200 members of the Ojibwe tribe located in Brimley, Michigan, where the organization also owns and operates the Bay Mill Resorts and Casinos. Now, it’s time to add weed to the tribe’s portfolio. 

BMIC Board Chair Bryan T. Newland said the marijuana project’s first step will be to construct a 10,000-plant indoor growth facility, which will supply cannabis outlets near the casino, as well as on tribal properties located just outside the cities of Flint, Gaylord, and Port Huron.

The intention from there, Newland said, is to cultivate this project into a cooperative shared by all of Michigan’s twelve tribes. BMIC aims to stock pot shops located on participating tribal lands, Newland added, “so we can share the burden of doing this and the benefits can flow to different tribal communities.”

Michigan presently adds a 16 percent tax on recreational weed. Since Native American lands don’t fall under the jurisdiction of state law, tribal weed could be sold tax-free. That’s quite the motivation for cannabis consumers to take that extra ride out to Native facilities when it’s time to re-up on weed.

The tribal groups tried to cut Michigan in on the action. Newland said Native American reps contacted the Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) in 2019 to talk about setting up a deal, but the agency brushed them off. Even following this latest announcement, the MRA declined to comment. So really, then — why bother and why wait?

“Look, we’re sovereign governments,” Newland said. “We’re not giving up our right and our authority to regulate what goes on on our lands and we’re certainly not going to pay the state of Michigan taxes for what we do on our lands. Governments don’t tax other governments and they don’t ask other governments for permission.”

Tribes also don’t have to worry about state licensing, application, and renewal fees, Newland said. Setting up a BMIC-sized grow operation in Michigan-proper would require shelling out $206,000 in state fees before even breaking ground. Such is not the case on tribal lands. 

After Michigan legalized marijuana in 2018, BMIC officially followed suit the following year. Newland said the tribe will create its own regulatory system on par with the state’s measures for monitoring safety, costs, and quality assurance. “On quality and price,” Newland said, “we’ll be competitive with anybody else in the state.”

Noting again that BMIC owns land throughout all of Michigan, Newman said, “It’s our intention to grow this business, grow this venture, and bring it statewide.”

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