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Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures (MLCV), the economic arm of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, has commenced construction on a full-scale 50,000-square foot cannabis cultivation facility near the tribe’s casino in Onamia, Minn. 

The facility is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2024 and is expected to create 30 to 40 jobs. The seed-to-sale operation, which will be managed by MLCV, marks the tribe’s entry into the cannabis market.  

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“With more states and tribes getting into cannabis, it was crucial for us to establish our presence as well,” Joe Nayquonabe, the Mille Lacs Band’s Commissioner of Corporate Affairs and MLCV’s CEO, said in a statement. 

After Minnesota enacted a recreational cannabis bill last year, Red Lake Nation and White Earth Nation were quick to embrace the market opportunity, implementing their own marijuana legislation and setting up dispensaries on tribal lands.  

Now, the Mille Lacs Band  is joining the other Minnesota tribes in exploring opportunities in the burgeoning marijuana market with its sights set on cultivation. As the entire state prepares for the launch of its cannabis market among non-tribal entities, there are concerns about the adequacy of Minnesota’s cannabis supply chain — a role that MLCV hopes to step into with its new operations and future plans. 

At 50,000-square feet, the tribe’s cultivation facility will be significantly larger than other grow operations in the state, which has set a 30,000-square-foot limit for other facilities under the new laws, though most are expected to be even smaller. Once its new facility is operational, MLCV will produce about 1,600 pounds of cannabis flower each month, Nayquonabe told a local business outlet.  

“That’s where the real benefit to tribes is to really invest in scale, so that’s where we’re starting,” Nayquonabe told Twin Cities News. “We eventually do think we will play in the retail side and potentially will play in the consumer product side, but in our initial entry we plan to be really aggressive on just meeting the demand that we think the state’s going to have for just flower.”

The new facility is the first on the tribe’s lands, but it won’t likely be the last, according to Nayquonabe. He told the Minnesota Star-Tribune that MLCV hopes to break ground on a cultivation second facility this fall and is aiming to create 250,000-square feet of canopy by 2030. 

To prepare for growth, the tribe formed an independent entity to enforce rigorous oversight over the cultivation, production, and distribution processes. This department will be responsible for granting cannabis licenses for cultivation, manufacturing, wholesale, retail, and testing activities within the Mille Lacs Band’s sovereign territory, according to the statement.  

The tribe’s cannabis ordinance is closely aligned with the standards in the state’s cannabis laws, according to Zach Atherton-Ely, vice president of strategic growth for MLVC. The regulations include comparable age restrictions, purchase limitations, associate licensure mandates, and guarantees of product safety and  quality. 

“We prioritize the safety and satisfaction of our customers and community by implementing  rigorous standards, ensuring quality and trust in all our operations,” Atherton-Ely said.