The White Earth Nation voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to approve a referendum directing the Reservation Business Committee to authorize the cultivation and distribution of medical cannabis. This makes the White Earth tribe the second in the state to legalize medical cannabis, after the Red Lake Nation voted to allow the same earlier in the year.

This vote marks the larges percentage of an electorate to approve a medical cannabis referendum to date, 86.89%, beating out the Red Lake Nation’s 80.59% approval of their measure. The highest percentage cast by a non-tribal electorate was a 2018 measure in Florida that passed with just over 71% of the vote.

Election Results Posted on Facebook by White Earth Nation; 994 Approve, 150 Disapprove

Supporters of the measure say that this was a needed change to provide medication to individuals in need, especially as more states roll out adult-use programs. The White Earth medical cannabis program is anticipated to allow raw flower (which Minnesota’s program bans) and provide medication to more conditions than the ones currently covered by the state. 

“The timing is right to make medical cannabis available to our people,” wrote Winona LaDuke, who currently operates a 40 acres hemp farm on the reservation. “Native people should have easy access to [the benefits of cannabis] but dispensary locations say otherwise.” Currently, native residents living in the northern part of the state only have access to two dispensaries in Hibbing and Moorhead. “Native and other people of color could grow and own this business. Minnesota’s model doesn’t accomplish that.”

“It’s exciting,” said White Earth Chairman Michael Fairbanks, “the membership has spoken and it’s overwhelming.” While the details of the program are still being planned, this move prepares the tribe for an eventual adult-use market in Minnesota. “Minnesota is getting really close to having recreational marijuana,” explained Fairbanks, “so it’s good to get our foot out there and mark our spot.”

Referendum Question: “Shall the Reservation Business Committee authorize the production, regulation, and distribution of medical marijuana on the White Earth Reservation?”