by Rick Thompson/December 22, 2020
On November 14, 2020 the Bay Mills Indian Community opened the Northern Lights Cannabis Company retail store on tribal lands in the Upper Peninsula. It’s the first cannabis industry in the state established independent of the Marijuana Regulatory Agency and the control of Michigan regulators. On Four20Post’s December 9 podcast, MRA Director Andrew Brisbo was asked about having two co-existing cannabis industries.
“I’ve been working with tribal representatives for well over a year now and looking at their interest in the industry,” Director Brisbo began. “The tribe’s interest in getting into the cannabis space was certainly escalated during the pandemic when they were looking for new opportunities for development. The administration is supportive of working with tribal nations to figure out solutions.”
The year of discussion and planning has yielded a game plan, of sorts, when it comes to the way Michigan’s regulated system will integrate with the Indian Community’s independent system.
“We have three pathways we’ve pursued, and we’ve had success in one of them already,” Brisbo outlined. “We have state-licensed facilities on tribal lands, where the tribal group is essentially achieving some benefit from acting as a landlord so to speak, and taking the role of the municipality there.”
Lume Cannabis from Troy has led the state in this field, opening stores during the pandemic in Petoskey and Mackinac City on lands owned by the Little Traverse Bay Bands. They have been licensed with the Sault Tribe Economic Development for an adult-use store in Sault Ste Marie and plan on opening 10 stores across the Upper Peninsula on tribal lands in 2021.
“We have an opportunity for tribes to invest directly in state-licensed facilities on non-tribal lands,” Brisbo continued, describing the second path. “We don’t have any licenses that have been issued in that regard yet. We’ve figured out a process forward and have engaged with some tribe that want to pursue that.
“Then there’s the Bay Mills model, where we have tribally owned and operated facilities on tribal lands.” The Director referred to the Bay Mills Indian Community, who have launched their own cannabis industry independent of the MRA and the state’s control. They have one retail center open in the Upper Peninsula, with processing and cultivation facilities coming in the near future.
Ideally, the native-owned industry would work with the state-licensed cannabis businesses in Michigan for production and supply. “The hurdle to overcome there is, how they engage in commerce with state-licensed facilities, which ultimately creates a more cohesive environment, opportunity for all involved, and consistency in standards for consumer protection as well.”
But, there’s a problem. Current law in Michigan restricts the relationship between the MRA and indigenous groups. “That’s an area where we need a statutory change that gives us the authority to enter into intergovernmental agreements.”
Statutory change is legislative change. A proposal to merge the MMFLA and MRTMA licensing programs was slated to be introduced in the legislature this year, but was delayed for further negotiations until 2021. Authority to work with the tribes is important part of the upcoming proposal. “That is something that we have put into the statutory consolidation effort that’s been put on the back burner, but it’s something that we’ll approach again in the next legislative session,” Brisbo predicted.
When it comes to a cooperative relationship with tribal entities, the MRA is taking a careful approach. “We have a couple of primary concerns. At the top of that list is ensuring that products are safe,” Brisbo assured the Four20Post audience. “We want to have some assurances that products were produced with similar controls and processes, as well as similar testing standards.”
Note: an article from the Traverse City Record-Eagle from August of 2020 describes a very strained version of the relationship between the MRA and the Bay Mills group. Director Brisbo was not asked to respond to the statements made in the Eagle article, and therefore they are not repeated here, but are referenced instead.
Bay Mills Tribal Chairperson Bryan Newland told MiBiz.com on August 30: “Bay Mills has no interest in turning over our sovereign lands to private, for-profit corporations who are regulated and taxed by the State of Michigan.”
Jamie Cooper and Stevan Bratic joined the Four20Post broadcast on December 9. Watch the video of the Director’s exclusive interview at the link below: