Red Lake Nation makes history as it passes medical marijuana referendum

First tribal nation in Minnesota to vote in favor of medical cannabis

Red Lake Nation web art.jpg
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RED LAKE RESERVATION -- Members of Red Lake Nation voted to approve the production, regulation and distribution of medical marijuana on Wednesday, May 20.

This move makes history in a few ways: Red Lake Nation will become the first entity in the state to retail medical cannabis in flower form and the first tribal nation in Minnesota to vote in favor of a medical cannabis referendum.

The referendum passed with 80.5% of the vote -- 1,765 for legalization and 425 against.

This passage also seems to be the largest percentage of a voter population to vote in favor of medical cannabis nationwide. The previously largest medical cannabis initiative margin passed with just over 71% of the vote during a 2016 referendum in Florida, according to the website Ballotpedia.

Pro-cannabis organizer, Kevin Jones Jr., took to Facebook Live after the election results were released Wednesday night.


“I want to (congratulate) Red Lake Nation on the voting on medical cannabis, we have passed today. It was a big, big turn out,” he said. “We did it, we passed it. You guys all made history.”

This program will be the only source of legal medical cannabis flower in Minnesota as the state’s medical cannabis program currently only allows oils, topicals and pills. It is not yet clear when medical cannabis will be available in Red Lake Nation, who will qualify for it and how the rollout will be handled.

Prior to the election, Jones said he wanted to make sure more people would be able to access medical marijuana than the state currently allows.

Minnesota residents diagnosed with the following conditions can be eligible for medical cannabis: cancer associated with severe/chronic pain, nausea or severe vomiting, cachexia or severe wasting, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Tourette syndrome, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, seizures including those characteristic of epilepsy, severe and persistent muscle spasms including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease including Crohn’s disease, terminal illness with a probable life expectancy of less than one year, Intractable pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, obstructive sleep apnea and Alzheimer's disease.

With the passage of the referendum in Red Lake Nation, the list of conditions that qualify patients for medical cannabis would be much longer. Depression, chronic pain, and those recovering from opioid addiction would likely qualify, Jones explained.

Jones hopes that the passage of medical cannabis will soon lead to full recreational legalization. “This is a new path for all of us, let’s keep moving forward with it,” he said.

Hannah Olson is a multimedia reporter for the Pioneer covering education, Indigenous-centric stories and features.
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