(Seth McConnell, Denver Post file)

In South Dakota, Indian tribe plans to grow, sell marijuana by Jan. 1

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley warns that non-Indians would still be breaking the law if they consume pot on the reservation.

FLANDREAU, S.D. — An Indian tribe in eastern South Dakota plans to start selling marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes by Jan. 1, becoming the first tribe in the state to legalize the sale of cannabis across its whole territory.

Leaders of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe said Tuesday that marijuana will be cultivated and sold at a single, indoor site on the reservation, after the tribe’s council last week approved it to be grown and sold on tribal land. That follows a federal decision last year that gave tribes the power to grow and sell pot under some conditions.

“It looks like it’s getting a lot of momentum,” tribal president Anthony Reider said. “The more we dug into it we realized that for us to be able to get ahead of it and get into it early would be a good thing.”

While some tribes view marijuana as an economic opportunity, others fear it could lead to negative public safety and health consequences. A district within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in western South Dakota legalized the use and cultivation of marijuana this year, but has made no further plans. The tribal council on Pine Ridge — which is in dire need of economic opportunities but also has high rates of violence and alcohol addiction — rejected a proposal to legalize pot on the full reservation last year.

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, which already operates a casino on its land, is looking at this business operation as a source of revenue that would allow the community to develop housing, build an addiction treatment center and improve the local clinic, among other projects. Tribal leaders estimate a monthly profit of up to $2 million a month.

But for all the hype that the decision may create among pot enthusiasts or individuals who have a prescription for the drug, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley has warned that non-Indians would still be breaking the law if they consume pot on the reservation.

Jackley said there are some reservations growing and selling pot in states where either recreational or medical marijuana is legal. But he said he is not aware of any other state attorney general dealing directly with the legalization of pot in a state where marijuana is against the law other than Oklahoma and Nebraska, which have jointly filed a lawsuit on the matter.

Reider said the tribe is working with a company that has growing facilities in Colorado and California that will develop the cultivation site on the reservation and advise the tribe on the operation. Reider declined to name the company.

This all comes after the U.S. Justice Department outlined a new policy in December allowing Indian tribes, which are considered sovereign nations, to grow and sell marijuana on tribal lands as long as they follow the same federal conditions laid out for states that have legalized the drug. The Justice Department had no comment on Tuesday on the decision by the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe.

But for non-Native Americans, “it’s against law everywhere in South Dakota on tribal land or otherwise” to smoke marijuana, Jackley said, and “any changes in tribal laws wouldn’t affect any non-Indians or any non-tribal lands.”

For example, if someone smokes marijuana on the reservation and is later is pulled over on an interstate highway for driving erratically and marijuana is found in that person’s system, the fact that pot is allowed in tribal land won’t be a justification for its consumption.

The legalization of pot on the reservation came by a 5-1 vote. The no vote came from trustee Roxee Johnson, who said she is concerned about how the decision could affect children on the reservation and is generally wary about the federal decision allowing tribes to grow and sell marijuana.

“You know the money talk can draw you in,” Johnson said. “But why can’t we start with hemp? I want to go another route.”
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Regina Garcia Cano can be reached on Twitter: @reginagarciakNO