Indian Tribe, First in Nation, Legalizes Marijuana

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A South Dakota American Indian tribe has become the first in the nation to legalize marijuana.

Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe SealThe executive committee of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe voted in June to allow the cultivation, sale, possession, and use of cannabis for any purpose, medical or recreational. Both types of weed would likely be sold at the same reservation dispensary.

The first legal pot could hit shelves by late this year. Initial plans call for a single grow site and a single retail store. Adults over 21 would be allowed to buy and use marijuana for recreation, while sick children with a doctor’s recommendation would have access to medical pot.

The vote is bound to cause significant controversy, both on the Santee reservation and in the neighboring community of Flandreau, S.D.. Both are located in the eastern portion of the state, near the Minnesota line.

At least in theory, that could mean a significant amount of interstate traffic, from South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Nebraska. But tribal leaders said there will be rules in place to prevent trafficking and smuggling.

Limited purchase quantities

Buyers at the retail shop will be limited to one gram at a time, tribal President Anthony Reider said. And they won’t be able to leave the facility with any amount of the drug – instead, they’ll consume it at the dispensary. Still, the presence of a legal place to smoke weed, in the heart of the Midwest, could make a lot of potheads happy.

Reider said the Flandreau Santee are ideally situated to take advantage of legal weed. Under an executive ruling issued by Presedent Barack Obama late last year, Native American reservations are free to decide for themselves whether they want to legalize.

Flandreau is already the site of a reservation casino, meaning it could soon become an entertainment hub for the region. Reider said the tribe is used to making controversial decisions.

“Throughout Indian country, Flandreau’s been trail-blazers,” Reider said. “We were with the casino, we were the second compacted tribe in the United States, the first and largest casino in between Atlantic City and Las Vegas, so it’s something that’s not new to us. We kind of like taking the forefront on issues.”

Problem of addiction in Native America communities

leaves sunshineBut there are others on the reservation who feel the vote is a mistake. Addiction is a special scourge of Native American communities, and the thought of legal pot makes some tribe members uncomfortable.

“We have no business going into marijuana,” said Becky Red Earth-Villeda, a lifelong resident of the Flandreau Santee reservation. “I don’t care what the reason is.”

Local officials in Flandreau also oppose the idea, though there isn’t much they can do about it. Indian reservations are considered semi-sovereign nations, and they’re free to set any policy that doesn’t violate federal law. With clearance from the Obama administration, that includes marijuana legalization.

Flandreau Mayor Mark Bonrud said the city would suffer if the tribe adopts legal cannabis while the rest of South Dakota does not.

“We don’t see any benefits in having marijuana in one certain entity without any tax structure or anything that’s going to benefit the city, or the state of South Dakota,” Bonrud said.

Seth Pearman, the tribe’s attorney, promised the Flandreau Santee would install high-tech surveillance equipment and employ security guards to ensure no weed leaves the dispensary. IDs will be required.

“We’re really kind of hoping that people treat it much like alcohol,” Pearman said. “We still would allow people to stay at our hotel, which would be the most ideal situation for us, but drugged driving is a major concern that we hope to curb, and by having such a small quantity, we hope that people don’t over consume.”

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