South Dakota Tribe Votes to Legalize Medical and Recreational Marijuana

The Oglala Sioux Tribe (located on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota) passed a referendum to legalize medical and recreational marijuana according to preliminary results from the tribe’s election commission.

According to the Associated Press, the results of Tuesday’s vote will be certified by the end of the month. In the tally from all precincts announced on Wednesday morning, both medical and recreational marijuana passed by wide margins, with 82% of voters approving medical marijuana and 74% approving recreational marijuana.

The AP notes that the Oglala Sioux will become the only Native American tribe to set up a cannabis market in a state where it’s otherwise illegal. The tribal council is next supposed to enact laws for how marijuana will be legalized and regulated. According to initial plans, the tribe will not take ownership of cannabis production or retail, but license individuals and put a retail tax on pot. The Tribal Council will take up the issue on March 31.

Chase Iron Eyes, a spokesperson for the tribe’s president, Julian Bear Runner, said the vote reflected the difference in how many tribal members perceive alcohol and marijuana. He called alcohol a “poison” that was forced on the tribe; whereas he described marijuana as a “healing plant” that presented a path out of poverty and historical trauma.

Tribal leaders have pitched setting up a marijuana resort near the tribe’s casino in order to attract tourists visiting the Black Hills.

Rick Gray Grass, who is part of the tribe’s executive leadership and pushed the marijuana proposal, said he hopes to have dispensaries open by August or September.

Tribal leaders said they want to cooperate with authorities in setting up a marijuana market and have discussed their plans with the U.S. attorney’s office for the state. Federal and state law enforcement has not commented on the issue.

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