"This order brings some justice to Native America's first modern day hemp farmer," former U.S. prosecutor Timothy Purdon said after a federal judge lifted an injunction against his client, Alex White Plume, above. (Chet Brokaw, Associated Press file)

Victory for South Dakota tribal hemp farmer as judge lifts decade-old ban

Shifting attitudes, farm bill memo aid the case of Alex White Plume, who was prohibited from growing hemp in 2004

FARGO, N.D. — A federal judge on Monday lifted a decade-old injunction prohibiting a South Dakota tribal member from producing industrial hemp, although other issues need to be resolved before he can grow it on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Viken of South Dakota said there has been a “shifting legal landscape” since the 2004 order was filed against Alex White Plume, an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. That includes a change in hemp laws in the 2014 farm bill and legalization of marijuana in some states.

White Plume’s lawyer, former U.S. attorney from North Dakota Timothy Purdon, said the order is a victory for both White Plume and tribal sovereignty.

“This order brings some justice to Native America’s first modern day hemp farmer,” Purdon said. “For over 10 years, Alex White Plume has been subject to a one-of-a-kind injunction which prevented him from farming hemp.”

Federal prosecutors in South Dakota could not be reached for comment.

The order does not resolve the ongoing question of whether cultivation of hemp on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, in southwestern South Dakota, should be legal. Purdon said Viken’s order should further the discussion on whether the Oglala tribe is being treated unfairly under a farm bill that allows states to produce hemp under certain circumstances.

Hemp can be used to make clothing, lotion and many other products, but growing it has been illegal under federal law because it is a type of cannabis plant and looks like marijuana. The White Plume family, including Alex and his brother, Percy, planted hemp on the reservation for three years from 2000 through 2002, but never harvested a crop. Federal agents conducted raids and cut down the plants each year.

Viken said the key to his opinion is the “shifting national focus” on industrial hemp as a viable agricultural crop and the decision by the U.S. attorney general to open dialogue with several tribes regarding the farm bill and a 2013 federal memo that outlined the federal government’s priorities in pursing marijuana cases.