Tribes in MN, WI voting on sale of booze, pot in hopes of boosting revenue


American Indian tribes in Minnesota and Wisconsin are asking members to vote on whether alcohol and marijuana should be sold – a move tribal officials say will help the reservations' economies.

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa is voting Wednesday on whether to allow alcohol sales at two of its casinos, despite having a ban on alcohol on the reservation, while tribal members of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin are considering whether to allow medical and recreational marijuana (more on that below).

Tribe considering casino alcohol sales

Red Lake Band members are heading to the polls to vote on the sale of alcoholic beverages at the Thief River Falls and Warroad casino locations, an announcement on the tribe’s website says.

Alcohol sales have been a contentious subject in the area around the Red Lake Reservation – Minnesota’s only dry reservation – for years due in part to the tribe’s high rate of alcoholism and substance abuse, MPR News reported.

Tribal officials are stressing that this referendum will not allow alcohol on the “diminished reservation,” the announcement says, meaning alcohol still will not be allowed on the Red Lake Reservation, nor at the Seven Clans Casino location in Red Lake.

If the referendum passes, the council will then decide if alcohol will be permitted for both on- and off-sale purchases, the Bemidji Pioneer reported.

Tribal leaders told the newspaper that allowing the sale of alcoholic beverages is a win-win for the tribe, noting proceeds from the sales will go towards operation costs at the casinos.

"When people are gambling or when they go out, they want to have a drink with their meal," Red Lake Tribal Secretary Donald Cook Sr. told the paper. "It's working at Northern Lights in Walker and Shooting Star in Mahnomen."

The lack of alcohol sales at some American Indian-run casinos in Minnesota had caused them to lose out on revenue, the Star Tribune said.

Voting ends at 8 p.m. Wednesday and results of the vote are expected to be announced by Thursday morning, a tribal official told BringMeTheNews.

WI tribe voting on legalization of marijuana

Earlier this year, the Red Lake Band also began studying whether to allow the growing and selling of marijuana on its reservation, which, if it moves forward, is also expected to increase revenue for the reservation.

It's something a handful of tribes across the country are considering since the U.S. Department of Justice released a memo back in December that told federal prosecutors not to prevent tribes from growing or selling the plant on their reservations, even if marijuana is illegal in the state, the Journal Sentinel notes.

That's prompted the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin to consider getting into the marijuana business, with the tribe's website explaining exploring the idea of legalizing and selling marijuana is part of its continued efforts to find different ways to diversity the tribe's economy, create jobs and increase revenue to fund needed services.

Tribal members over the age of 18 will be voting Wednesday and Thursday on two questions: whether marijuana should be legalized for medical use, and if it should be legalized for recreational use by anyone age 21 or older.

Many tribe members who spoke with the Shawano Leader said they are mixed on the legalization of marijuana, noting they don't support the recreational use of the drug, but understand the tribe's need to expand its economy.

Results of the vote are expected to be announced Friday, but unlike the Red Lake Band's vote, this isn't binding. The tribe's nine-member governing board will make the final decision, Channel 3000 notes.

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