Will Oglala Lakota Tribal Members Vote in Favor of a Cannabis Marketplace?

Tomorrow, members of the Oglala Lakota Nation will cast their votes on whether to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use within the bounds of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The move would “jump start” the local economy, leaders say, in a state where cannabis sales and consumption are currently illegal. (South Dakota laws stand to change, as residents are scheduled to vote on whether to legalize medical and recreational marijuana statewide in November.) 

This week’s vote happens to coincide with a reservation travel ban, enacted Sunday night by new Tribal President Julian R. Bear Runner in response to the worldwide outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19), reported Rapid City Journal

READ MORE: Senators Urge Pence to Approve COVID-19 Emergency Funds for Tribes 

Bear Runner has requested off-reservation residents and visitors to remain outside Tribal borders until travel restrictions are lifted. 

“In order to further protect the health and general welfare of the Oglala Lakota Nation, I strongly recommend the general public coming from off the reservation to visit, to postpone your visits until a time deemed necessary that the travel suspension is lifted,” he said in a statement. 

Whether the travel ban and concerns about the continuous spread of COVID-19 will impact the results of the Tribe’s vote on creating a cannabis marketplace — designed to draw people to the reservation — remains to be seen. 

“People will be coming in from all directions to get their medicine,” Ricky Gray Grass, a Tribal leader, told the Associated Press

High Achiever: Las Vegas Paiute Tribe

Tribes across the nation have been inspired to enter the cannabis industry by the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, responsible for building a Tribal cannabis empire near the Las Vegas Strip. While recreational marijuana use is legal in Nevada for adults over age 21, it must be kept and consumed in a private residence. The Las Vegas Paiutes leveraged their sovereignty in October 2019 by debuting their Vegas Tasting Room, a cannabis consumption lounge that offers the opportunity for guests to smoke publicly, even though that’s not permitted elsewhere in Nevada. “We’re able to do this because [we’re] on our sovereign land here,” Benny Tso, a member of the governing council of the 65-member Tribe, told the LA Times.

Here’s a timeline recap of the Paiute Tribe’s success building a thriving cannabis marketplace near downtown Las Vegas: 

  • The  Las Vegas Paiute Tribe opened the largest cannabis dispensary in the world in October 2017. NuWu Cannabis Marketplace sprawls across 15,800 square feet on Tribal land in historic downtown Las Vegas and stays open 24/7, while offering customers another convenience, a drive-thru window — the first of its kind in the world. 
  • In April 2018, the United Soccer League team the Las Vegas Lights partnered with NuWu, becoming the first professional sports team in the U.S. to ink a partnership with a marijuana dispensary. 
  • In early 2019, the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe introduced its second NuWu Cannabis Marketplace, roughly a third of the size of its original cannabis megastore, in the northwest valley of Las Vegas, also featuring a 24-hour drive-thru.
  • In October 2019, the Tribe achieved yet another industry milestone, opening Nevada’s first marijuana tasting lounge, located at its original NuWu Cannabis Marketplace. The Vegas Tasting Room offers a sample “flight” to patrons looking to try before they buy. 

In South Dakota, Bear Runner hopes that legalizing marijuana sales could bolster their local economy, providing jobs and generating revenue for critical infrastructure repair, the Associated Press reported. 

Also on the ballot Tuesday is the option to allow the sale of liquor at Tribal casinos — something Bear Runner is vehemently against. “When our people vote on whether to allow alcohol onto our homelands, my vote will be NO,” he posted on Facebook. 

As for marijuana sales, to preemptively avert legal concerns, Oglala Lakota Nation leaders are drafting plans to convince the state that marijuana sales can be contained within their reservation, and thus legal, bounds. 

Grass believes the measure has broad support among Tribal members. “I think it’s going to win by a landslide,” he told the AP.