5 States Voted to Legalize Marijuana, What It Means for Tribes

With marijuana legal is South Dakota, customers will be able to purchase cannabis products on Pine Ridge lands and leave with it, rather than needing to consume it on reservation. The Tribe plans to create a cannabis marketplace to bring financial opportunity to the reservation.

Four more states — New Jersey, Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota — just voted to legalize recreational cannabis, and voters in Mississippi supported the creation of a medical cannabis program.

That brings the total number of states where marijuana is legal for adults over the age of 21 to 11 states and Washington, DC, since 2012. Meanwhile, 34 states have legalized medical marijuana.

Because the U.S. has not federally legalized marijuana like Canada did in 2018, states are tasked with determining their own laws around the sale, distribution and consumption of it. Marijuana is still classified as an illegal Schedule I drug by the U.S. federal government. 

While the results of the presidential election loom, neither candidate supports federal legalization of marijuana, though Former Vice President Joe Biden said he would support federal decriminalization.

South Dakota

In March 2020, when marijuana consumption was still illegal in South Dakota, the Oglala Lakota Tribe legalized pot on the rez, setting the stage for establishing its planned marijuana resort — a place where visitors can come to indulge, and an added attraction to the Prairie Wind Casino & Hotel. 

READ MORE: Oglala Lakota Nation Envisions Cannabis Resort as Driving Economic Force 

Now that the state of South Dakota will permit the sale and use of recreational cannabis, the Tribe can sell to customers off Tribal lands as well. Previously, consumption had to begin and end on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Now, customers will be able to buy their cannabis products on Pine Ridge and leave, or the Tribe can legally look into opening up dispensaries off Tribal land. 

Back in April, South Dakota legalized industrial hemp. Now both pot and hemp are legal. The cannabis (marijuana) and hemp plants are both strains of the cannabis sativa species, with a key difference. Hemp has very low THC content, and is used for numerous purposes, including textiles, paper and biofuel. Cannabis or marijuana, on the other hand, is grown for use as a medical or recreational drug. In December, the federal government legalized the growing of hemp, with only Mississippi and Idaho still banning industrial hemp cultivation.

With 21 federally recognized Tribes in Arizona today and 7 in Montana, it remains to be seen what Tribal economic development plans for cannabis will emerge in those states. Oversaturation of cannabis operations and dispensaries doesn’t appear to be a huge business problem. In Colorado, more marijuana dispensaries exist than Starbucks and McDonald’s combined. 

The timeline is not immediate. Montana residents can legally use marijuana as of January 1, 2021, but it won’t be for another year, come 2022, that the state of Montana will open up applications for dispensaries. The Arizona Department of Health Services must publicize cannabis regulations by April 5, 2021.