The Northern Light Cannabis Co. has recently been launched by the Bay Mills Indian Community (BMIC). Beginning with a recreational marijuana dispensary on tribally owned land located south of Sault Ste. Marie, they are developing a vertically-integrated “seed to sale” business that will be licensed and regulated under tribal law with the proceeds benefiting tribal members and community residents.
We got a chance to speak with Whitney Gravelle, BMIC in-house counsel and tribal attorney, about Michigan’s first tribally owned cannabis business.
“What makes Bay Mills unique is that we have a general tribal council that is comprised of all voting age adults,” Gravelle said. “It’s the governing body of the tribe, and within our community there was a strong movement and desire to legalize cannabis and recognize its medical benefits. The majority came together and held a referendum in January of 2019. It’s democracy at its finest.”
“Our business model is for a vertically integrated operation with growing, processing, product development and retail all on one site. We didn’t want to just own a business and have large corporations tell us what to do or how to direct our dollars,” Gravelle explained. “We’re on a couple hundred acres and plan to have both inside and outside grow operations. We’ll be growing and processing in the same building, having everything tested on-site, ensuring no pesticides, and doing everything we can to ensure we have the best quality product for consumers.”
Gravelle explained that with the community’s buy-in & direction as a road map, “We started working towards our goals, reaching out to the state to engage in the process. There have been bumps & hurdles along the way, but we found a consulting firm (Soil to Smoke) to help teach us the ropes. What makes Northern Light unique is that it’s owned & operated by the community. We’ve been able to do things like exploring partnerships with Lake Superior State or other universities to create educational and career paths for tribal members through their cannabis education programs. We’ve seen such enthusiasm that even those who are not cannabis consumers are very supportive. When we did all the job postings it was the most popular we’ve seen. Everyone wanted to be a part of making this business succeed. Not only are we providing for our community, we’re helping to make our future better.”
Chad Cameron has been working at Northern Light as a budtender for about a month. He shares the enthusiasm and explained, “I worked for Bay Mills for 12 years as a blackjack dealer. I knew right away that this is an exploding business where you can learn a lot and advance your career.”
“We’re up in kind of the middle of nowhere but business is pretty steady,” he continued. “It’s mainly people in the eastern UP, but I see some out of state plates in the parking lot. A lot of local people too. It was the community that pushed it, and you see people, even the ones who are still a little leery, opening up the possibilities. I try to make people as comfortable as possible so I can help them understand the medicine and the benefits.”
As Gravelle explained, this philosophy is central to the entire enterprise. “Our objective is to provide for our community, but also to really reduce the stigma of cannabis. You often see communities of color negatively impacted by cannabis laws. It was important to us not only legalize, but also to pass a tribal law to allow any cannabis offenses to be expunged. We want to allow people to move forward as we work to make Bay Mills a stop not only for cannabis, but also for gaming & outdoor recreation in a beautiful part of the Upper Peninsula.”
You can visit northernlightcannabis.com for a full list of their product offerings which include their own Ojibweed edibles. Northern Light Cannabis Co. can be found at 2736 W, M-28, Dafter, MI 49724.
See a full list of Upper Peninsula cannabis retailers on our UP recreational cannabis map!