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Grand Traverse Band debuts recreational cannabis venture

Exploring the island’s Indigenous roots and futures

From Record Eagle by Sierra Clark March 30 2023

TRAVERSE CITY — Another sovereign Anishinaabek nation enters Michigan’s recreational cannabis market with the opening of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians’ store in Acme Township.

Beach Fire Cannabis, the debut of the Grand Traverse Band’s first adult- or recreational-use dispensary opened for tribal citizens and employees Wednesday, with their lobby filled at 1 pm.

The grand opening for the public was expected to start at 10 a.m. today with a ribbon-cutting.

The dispensary operates at Turtle Creek Market, the convenience store and gas station adjacent to Turtle Creek Casino and Hotel, with the region’s first dispensary drive-thru.

“We’re happy to be leading with some of the firsts for recreational cannabis opportunities,” said store Manager Brandon Gilbride.

Gillbride said the location wants to be a one-stop shop for their customers that takes pride in the locality of their products.

“Everything is sourced right here and, if we cannot find it within our region, we make sure it comes from Michigan,” he said.

Local partner Northwoods Cannabis co-founder Brett Etengoff said they are excited to be a part of the tribe’s venture, “to join up together in support of each other.”

The Grand Traverse Band is the third tribe to invest in the cannabis industry.

The Bay Mills Indian Community opened both a 10,000-plant grow facility on reservation land and Northern Light Cannabis Co., the first Indigenous-owned adult-use cannabis dispensary in the state, in 2020.

In 2021, the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians opened a recreational marijuana store in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with plans to open another five dispensaries.

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community announced last December that the Michigan Cannabis Regulatory Agency formally approved their nonprofit corporation, Mashkiki. KBIC-created entities will be the majority stakeholders of Frostbite Management, Inc., the company that owns and controls current KBIC cannabis businesses.

According to the KBIC, the next steps in the roll-out of Mashkiki are future development options and opportunities that include the development, coordination, and negotiation of planning for future construction of the community’s cannabis ventures.

As sovereign nations, tribes are not governed by local regulations for recreational marijuana. According to the Michigan Regulatory Agency, they must go through a separate process to join the marijuana market available to the state.

CEO for Grand Traverse Resort & Casinos Rich Bailey said that Grand Traverse Band has been working since the GTB Tribal Council voted to enact a “Tribal Marijuana Ordinance,” in August 2021, which effectively opened the doors for the tribe to engage in an integrated marijuana business.

Bailey said that journey has been complicated by the Grand Traverse Band’s decision to go through a formal licensing process with the state of Michigan.

GTB decided to work with the state because it was the fastest route that allows 100 percent of the business to be owned by the tribe, Bailey said. Having a state license will make it easier for their marijuana enterprise to “integrate ourselves into the state system,” Bailey said.

By law, the dispensaries must be on the tribe’s trust land, including their reservation lands. Grand Traverse Band holds numerous pieces of trust land throughout northern Michigan, including the Turtle Creek Casino property off M-72, the Peshawbestown reservation in Leelanau County, and trust lands in Acme and Whitewater townships.

Native American trust land, according to the United States Department of the Interior, is land to which the federal government holds legal title, but the beneficial interest remains with the individual or tribe.

Currently, the Treasury Department and the Cannabis Regulatory Agency don’t have the authority to compact with tribes. Under current law, Indigenous-owned dispensaries are not authorized to sell the same marijuana products as the rest of the state.

Currently, there is legislation in the Senate and the House that would allow for a more normal government-to-government-based relationship between the tribes, collectively, and the state.

It would allow sovereign Anishinaabek nations in Michigan to enter into compact agreements with the Marijuana Regulatory Agency to get licensed to become growers, processors, transporters, and testers. They also would have access to the state’s marijuana tracking system, called Metrc.

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