On March 10, members of the Oglala Lakota Nation cast a landslide vote in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational and medicinal use on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
The Tribe is exercising its sovereignty in a state where marijuana is currently illegal to bring financial opportunity to the reservation. “We need an internal, regenerative, self-sustaining solution,” Chase Iron Eyes, a spokesman for Oglala Lakota President Julian Bear Runner, told the Associated Press.
As Ricky Gray Grass, a Tribal leader responsible for pushing the measure told the AP, “People will be coming in from all directions to get their medicine.”
Roughl 82% of voters said yes to medical marijuana legalization, and 74% approved recreational marijuana, according to preliminary results from the Tribal election. Voters opposed a referendum to allow alcohol sales at Tribal casinos on the reservation.
Cultivating Cannabis Tourism
Whereas the Oglala Lakota Nation has not succeeded at drawing patrons in droves outside of its community to its Prairie Wind Casino & Hotel on the reservation, a cannabis resort near its gaming facility could change things.
Grass hopes to appeal to the tourists who already flock to the Black Hills and Badlands region, and believes a small eco-tourism industry stands to develop with an increase in reservation traffic. Grass envisions dispensaries open by August or September.
President Bear Runner foresees a marijuana market and associated retail tax improving the Tribal and local economy, providing jobs, and generating revenue for critical infrastructure repair.
Navigating the Legal Landscape
Next steps include drafting laws and regulation for cannabis production, sale and consumption — and preventing people from taking cannabis off sovereign Tribal land. The Tribe intends to license individual cultivators and retailers, and as aforementioned, implement a retail tax. Tribal discussions are slated to take place March 31.
Oglala Lakota Tribal leaders have discussed their plans with the U.S. attorney’s office for South Dakota. (Meanwhile, South Dakota residents are scheduled to vote on whether to legalize medical and recreational marijuana statewide in November. If they do, it will be a boon for the Oglala Lakota Nation’s economy and a nice head start getting operations up and running for the Tribe.)
Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe
While no other Tribe in South Dakota sells medical and recreational marijuana, the Oglala Lakota Nation isn’t the first Tribe in the state to aspire to build a marijuana resort — though hopefully it becomes the first to do so successfully.
Back in 2015, the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, sought to open the nation’s first marijuana resort on its reservation in eastern South Dakota.
(For frame of reference, it wasn’t until October 2017 that the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe opened the largest cannabis dispensary in the world, located near the Las Vegas Strip. The Paiutes added a second NuWu Cannabis Marketplace in early 2019, and in October 2019, the Tribe opened Nevada’s first marijuana tasting lounge.)
Back in 2014-2015, the Flandreau Santee transformed and remodeled a former bowling alley near their casino to accommodate up to 1,000 people as a marijuana lounge. Plans also called for a nightclub, arcade games, bar and food service, and eventually, slot machines and an outdoor music venue. The Tribe’s state-of-the-art marijuana growing operation touted well over 65 strains of plants. Gearing up to open on New Year’s Eve of 2015 (rolling into 2016), the Tribe’s vision was cut short by federal and state resistance. Tribal meetings in Washington with a Justice Department official and the U.S. Attorney for South Dakota revealed a raid was likely if the government’s concerns were not addressed.
The trigger-button issue for the feds and state? Whether or not the Flandreau Santee Tribe could sell marijuana to non-Indians. There was also discrepancy about the origin of the seeds used for its crops, reported the AP.
So, the Tribe responded by burning its crops to demonstrate good faith — with hopes to resume the project later. While the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe has not revived its plans for a marijuana resort, it is moving forward with industrial hemp.
On December 27, 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the Flandreau Santee Tribe’s plans to grow hemp on its reservation in eastern South Dakota. Meanwhile, the Oglala Lakota Nation, along with the Yankton Sioux in South Dakota, continue to await USDA approval for their hemp production plans.
As a Cannabis Marketplace Is Slated to Come to Pine Ridge in South Dakota, Wyoming Tribes Plan to Vote on Whether to Legalize Marijuana and Hemp
On Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation, home to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes, advocates say legal medical marijuana and industrial hemp could bolster the reservation economy.
While both Tribes are considering legalization, the Eastern Shoshone may put the issue to vote first, this Saturday, during a meeting of the Tribe’s General Council.
Marijuana sales and use remain illegal under Wyoming State law, but the Tribes may follow in the footsteps of the Oglala Lakota Nation. If the Oglala Lakota Nation’s plans move forward, it will be the first Tribe in the country to create a cannabis market in a state where it’s otherwise illegal.