South Dakota tribe seeks marijuana recreation use, growing operations on reservation
FLANDREAU, S.D. -- South Dakota's smallest tribe -- landwise and memberwise -- is thinking green. Green as in marijuana and also as in cash, or in other words, economic development. The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, with its 385 reservation membe...
FLANDREAU, S.D. -- South Dakota's smallest tribe -- landwise and memberwise -- is thinking green.
Green as in marijuana and also as in cash, or in other words, economic development.
The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, with its 385 reservation members and a checkerboard of 5,000 acres in Moody County just north of Sioux Falls and along the Minnesota state line, has approved plans to not only grow marijuana but to also allow recreational smoking.
Tribal executive committee member Mike Weston said the committee voted 6-0 last week to pursue the plan. One committee member abstained, he said.
The tribe, which Weston said has been working on the issue since last year and sees it as an economic development opportunity, has already had its lawyers draft a 30-page marijuana control ordinance and is hoping to get the growing operation started "as soon as possible."
Weston said he originally thought it was a good idea to have a growing operation only to provide medicinal marijuana and to also have a hemp operation.
"But others wanted to have recreational use, too," he said, although he admitted that it has split the tribe, with many members on both sides of the issue speaking at the meeting where the ordinance was approved.
The preliminary plan calls for two buildings-one for growing marijuana and the other as a type of smoking lounge -on the the reservation about 45 miles north of Sioux Falls-the state's largest city.
However, while the tribe, which Weston said has done a lot for the city and county with its successful casino on the western edge of town, is thinking green, the Flandreau city leaders are seeing red. Red as in upset.
Flandreau Mayor Mark Bonrud said in a terse one-sentence email, ""We as a city think it is a bad idea. More impaired drivers on our roads and impaired people on our streets."
The police chief in the town of 2,300 people was reluctant to comment, but said the tribe, which he has worked with cooperatively over the years has told him little about the plan.
"I think I'm going to have a daunting task ahead of me in the coming months," Police Chief Anthony Schrad said..
If the marijuana plan comes to fruition, the chief said, "with the crime influx they've seen in Colorado and Washington state with their marijuana laws, we're going to be in dire need of help."
Complicating his police department's situation is that the tribe also notified the city that it will end its longstanding joint powers agreement where Flandreau city officers and tribal officers were cross-deputized to patrol and make arrests across reservation boundaries.
The agreement, the tribe said, would end in 90 days-or just after Labor Day-leaving the city department out of the annual $277,000 that the tribe paid to the city for police patrols.
Schrad said he knows why it's being done. If they had the cross-deputization still in place, his officers could enforce state laws against marijuana.
South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley issued a statement this week saying "the possession, distribution and manufacture of marijuana is a violation of both federal and state law.
"Unfortunately, the federal government has created confusion in relation to marijuana jurisdiction in Indian Country with recent inconsistencies," he said.
Jackley said he respects each tribe's authority to pass laws that govern Indians on their land, but said state law prohibits marijuana use or distribution by non-Indians on reservation lands and all Indians off reservations.
As for acting South Dakota U.S. Attorney Randolph Seiler, his office said he has no comment, although public affairs officers Ace Crawford said the office has been working privately with the tribe.
She also released a policy statement from the federal Department of Justice, which plainly says that marijuana remains illegal under federal law and that the U.S. can enforce federal law in Indian Country.
The statement also says plainly "no" to the question of whether a department memorandum released last fall authorized tribes to start producing and selling marijuana.
Nonetheless, the Flandreau tribe is moving ahead, Weston said, emphasizing the tribe has only taken the first step toward the marijuana operation and that "we have a long ways to go."
Weston said tribes who claim sovereignty believe the Department of Justice has given them a way past the state laws. He's realistic, however, that legal challenges may still loom.
He said the next step is hiring a consultant and there have been offers from Colorado, Washington state and California.
In addition to being hounded by consultants looking for work and media from all over the nation, he said there's also been people wanting to be "adopted" by the tribe so they could smoke marijuana legally, veterans calling in hopes they could one day buy it for dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome and cancer patients and others wanting to buy it for medicinal purposes.
"There are a lot of kids who have seizures who really need it. It just tears at your heart. They have parents that are willing to break the law to get help for their children," Weston said.
Not all the tribe has heard in the past week has been positive, he admitted.
He said they've heard about the concerns of minors obtaining marijuana, drugged driving, security of the operation, people leaving the reservation with marijuana, drug cartels moving in and the tribe selling it at the casino.
The list could go on. "Everyone is all freaked out and we've been putting out a lot of fires" he said.
Weston wanted to emphasize, though, that the operation would be heavily regulated and would be separate from the casino complex.
As for the concerns about drugged driving, he said there are already people who drink at the casino and it would be the same type of situation with marijuana. "That's why we built a hotel there," he said. Or the other option, he said, would be designated drivers.
As for drug cartels, Weston said when they opened the casino people had concerns about organized crime and prostitution moving in.
"It didn't happen," Weston said.
"This isn't going to be a free for all," he said. "There's just a lot of misinformation out there."