Despite admitting his office hasn’t looked into the matter, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley accused a local American Indian tribe of lying about the destruction of a large crop of marijuana.
Jackley said he is investigating whether the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe of eastern South Dakota burned $1 million worth of cannabis as tribe officials have claimed. Tribal leaders had planned to legalize marijuana on their reservation but backed off under threats from state and federal officials.
“I don’t think for a minute that they destroyed $1 million worth of marijuana,” Jackley said in April without providing evidence. “I don’t know where that went and it’s an open case. We never shut that case. We never got an opportunity to check what was destroyed.”
A lawyer for the tribe and other reservation officials declined to comment on the accusation, leading a local newspaper to imply the tribe was lying about the cannabis crop.
Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe has suspended plans to legalize
The marijuana was grown in 2015 in anticipation of tribal legalization. The Flandreau Santee tribe planned to open a legal marijuana club next to its casino, with food, music, and other entertainment. President Barack Obama had declared the year before that Native American tribes were free to legalize if they chose to do so.
No other tribe has even tried, largely because local officials across the country have threatened to sic police on Indians and others who smoke legal cannabis on reservations. Those officials have little if any standing to do so – tribes are sovereign and subject only to federal law – but have effectively blocked tribes from exerting their rights.
The U.S. attorney for South Dakota also threatened to use federal force to raid reservations, despite Obama’s memo. The Flandreau Santee announced they would stop growing marijuana until the federal government settles the matter.
Tribe officials seeking the best way to legalize
Tribal officials said at the time that they planned to move forward again after working with the Department of Justice to determine the best way to legalize.
But Jackley, a staunch political opponent of cannabis reform, used his office to threaten non-tribal members who use marijuana on the reservation, even though he likely has no authority to do so. South Dakota law allows the arrest of anyone caught with any amount of THC in the bloodstream, but police cannot interfere with tribal law.
“What (the Flandreau Santee) can’t do is bus a bunch of people out from Brookings and have them smoke a bunch of pot then bus them back to college,” Jackley said. “That’s not going to work. The law is not going to allow it and we’re not going to let it happen.”
Jackley is almost certainly wrong, at least in the long run. The Obama administration has relaxed federal marijuana policy and has cracked down on federal prosecutors who resist. And legalization will likely arrive in the Midwest within a few years, a fact that will render Jackley’s position and South Dakota’s anti-marijuana laws moot.
Jackley has pointed to a 2001 Supreme Court ruling that granted state governments jurisdiction over crimes involving Indian tribes that occur off reservation. Jackley claims that means police may arrest anyone who tokes on tribal land and then returns to South Dakota. Tribal officials and most legal observers disagree.