Hemp in flower on a private plot in Boulder County. (Elana Ashanti Jefferson, The Cannabist)

Pine Ridge reservation farmer banned from growing hemp seeks reprieve

PINE RIDGE, S.D. — Alex White Plume planted industrial hemp on his Pine Ridge farm more than a decade ago, but never harvested a crop. Now, he says it’s time to grow again.

Before it was legal: Hemp farmer's fight to grow crop draws admiration
Alex White Plume, an Oglala Lakota elder, started growing hemp in 2000 on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, but the DEA raided the field and destroyed the plants. (Hempsters LLC)

White Plume, an Oglala Sioux tribal member, wants to grow hemp again on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation thanks to guidelines laid out by the federal Department of Justice in December allowing tribes to decide whether to grow and sell marijuana, South Dakota Public Broadcasting reported earlier this spring.

In 1998, the Oglala Sioux Tribe legalized the production of hemp and the White Plume family began growing the plant on the reservation from 2000 to 2002. But federal agents eventually conducted raids and cut down the plants because U.S. law considers hemp, a cousin of marijuana, to be a drug even though it contains only a trace of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, a banned substance also found in marijuana.

But before White Plume can grow again, he first has to get federal authorities to lift a restraining order keeping him from planting hemp on his Pine Ridge farm. White Plume says his attorneys are working to see the restraining order lifted and believes hemp could be an appropriate form of economic development.

“Now, we’re finally at a point where we can really exercise our rights and maybe we’ll see some money as the outcome,” he said.

Tribes have been wrestling with the idea of growing and selling marijuana since the U.S. Justice Department announced that it wouldn’t stand in their way if they want to approve pot for medical or recreational use in December of last year. The agency said tribes must follow the same law enforcement priorities laid out for states that legalize the drug, including keeping marijuana out of the hands of children and criminal elements.

Oglala Sioux Tribal President John Yellow Bird Steele has said that he doesn’t support allowing marijuana on Pine Ridge but does support industrial hemp.

Information from: KUSD-FM