DAFTER, Mich. (WJMN) – Just a few minutes south Sault Ste. Marie at the intersection of I-75 and M-28 in the eastern Upper Peninsula, the first tribal owned marijuana business opened on Friday.
“Business was gangbusters. We had a great response from the community,” said Bryan Newland, Tribal Chairperson for Bay Mills Indian Community.
Northern Light Cannabis Company and dispensary makes history in Michigan. For the Bay Mills Indian Community, being innovators is nothing new. Newland says they were the first tribe in Michigan to operate a casino and charter schools. Now they add marijuana to the list. Newland talked with us about what makes this opportunity special for them.
“We have always been looking for ways to expand career opportunities for our people here and generate additional revenues for our tribal community. In particular with Northern Light Cannabis Company, the decades long war on drugs has had a particularly harmful impact on communities of color. Now we’ve seen here with the legalization of cannabis in Michigan that a lot of the people who are benefiting from this industry are wealthy investors. What sets us apart is we’re a community owned cannabis company and the benefits flow right back into our local community in the Eastern U.P.,” said Newland.
In the long term, Newland says it means maintaining tribal connections with one another and their people will continue to live together as a tribe as they’ve always done.
“So that means having a wide range of job opportunities for our people. Whether it’s gaming and hospitality, health care, higher education, administration or now the cannabis industry. That’s going to provide more opportunities for our people who have gone away to get jobs training, gone away to get higher education, to come back here and live,” added Newland.
There are already plans for expansion. Newland hinted that the future could hold cannabis growing and processing operations in the Upper Peninsula as well. He also told us the Bay Mills Indian Community has more going on this month than cannabis.
“Later on this month we will become one of the first tribes in the United States to begin online gaming, sports betting and other types of gaming online. So November 2020 is a big month for us here at Bay Mills,” said Newland.
It’s a move he says will help sustain his community.
“With respect to internet gaming, the pandemic has had a terrible impact on our brick and mortar casino operations. That then flows down to our employees and our tribal members. So to have a new opportunity for a new source of revenue that isn’t dependent on people coming in close contact with each other will help us keep people employed and keep food on the table for a lot of people here in our community.”