Two legal industries experiencing rapid growth in Michigan are converging, as some tribal governments with casino operations are expanding into the cannabis market.
Enterprising Michigan tribes are looking to the legal marijuana industry, like they have with casinos, as a way to generate revenue for their members. If successful, much-needed tax revenue can also spill into Lansing to help fund state programs.
Legislation surrounding Michigan tribes and legal cannabis still pending
Tribes must take care to follow regulations unique to them: native tribal nations have different rules for producing, cultivating, and selling products from the land they own, due to federal regulations.
Still, some Michigan tribes are finding ways to dip their toes into the cannabis market, which reported $250 million in sales for medical and recreational use in March, according to the state.
Whether through cannabis stores, smoking lounges, or dispensaries, some Michigan tribes are leveraging their resources (land and capital) to explore the recreational marijuana industry.
In 2022, the Michigan house passed a bill that allows the 12 indigenous tribes in the state to sell recreational marijuana, with portions of the revenue taxed and returned to the tribes. The legislation would permit tribes to apply for a license with the state’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency as growers, processors, cannabis testers, or transporters of the product.
That bill did not go any further, but it has been reintroduced in the Michigan legislature.
Tribal casinos with nearby legal marijuana businesses
A handful of Michigan tribes are also involved in the legal cannabis market, with several planning expansion into an industry that could approach $2 billion in sales in 2023.
Bay Mills Indian Community – Northern Lights Cannabis Company
The Bay Mills Indian Community is a pioneer at marrying cannabis and casino, through its marijuana store at the intersection of I-75 and M-28 in the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in Sault Ste. Marie, which opened in 2020.
Bay Mills didn’t stop at a store: the tribe has a 10,000-plant grow facility on its reservation, with plans to add a processing facility for cannabis in the U.P. The tribe brands its marijuana business under the name Northern Light Cannabis Company.
In 2020, former Bay Mills Tribal Chairman Bryan Newland expressly clarified that the tribe is keeping its gaming and cannabis business operations separate. In an interview with GGB News, Newland said, Northern Lights Cannabis Company “is completely independent of our gaming business. We financed it with investment capital and it is a diversification of our current business holdings.”
Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians – Rolling Embers
In April, the Pokagaon Band opened Rolling Embers, a cannabis retail store and lounge located on land the tribe owns at Exit 1 on I-94 in New Buffalo. The facility is a new construction with more than 3,000 square feet of indoor retail space, employing 14 people, according to reporting from Tribal Business News. The tribe has also designed a 1,400 square-foot outdoor space that will allow cannabis consumption and also host food trucks and social events.
The Pokagon own and operate three casinos in Michigan under the Four Winds brand name: in Dowagiac, Hartford, and New Buffalo.
Grand Traverse Bay Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians – Beach Fire Cannabis
In March, the Grand Traverse Band debuted its store, Beach Fire Cannabis, a subsidiary of tribal operations. The location is adjacent to the tribe’s Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel in Acme Township. Even though Acme township and Whitewater township, where the tribal property exists, do not allow adult-use marijuana licensing, the Grand Traverse Band, as a sovereign nation, is not hampered by that ban.
GTB operates Turtle Creek Casino, as well as Leelanau Sands Casino in northern Michigan.
Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians – Lume Cannabis Co.
The Sault Tribe operates Lume Cannabis Co., which grows, processes, and sells adult-use recreational and medicinal cannabis. The Lume Store is at 246 3 Mile Road in Sault Ste. Marie, on land owned by the Sault Ste. Marie tribe.
“At Lume, we pride ourselves on offering an unmatched variety of safe and high-quality THC and CBD products and we are excited to introduce our brand and show cannabis in a new light to adult-use consumers in Sault Ste. Marie and the eastern Upper Peninsula,” said Lume president and COO Doug Hellyar in a 2021 interview just prior to the store opening.
The Sault Tribe owns and operates Kewadin Casinos.