Did South Dakota Just Legalize Cannabis?

The Oglala Sioux Tribe have just voted to legalize cannabis, although it is still unclear if the plan has the support of South Dakota lawmakers.

South Dakota may have just become the next US state to legalize cannabis, after the Oglala Sioux Tribe voted to allow the use of medical and recreational marijuana on its Pine Ridge Reservation.

Although the results still need to be finalised, preliminary reports indicate the 82% voted in favour of medical marijuana—while 72% approved recreational marijuana—putting the tribe into potential conflict with the state's lawmakers, as cannabis still remains fully illegal in South Dakota.

However, the Oglala Sioux believe that their tribal sovereignty—which gives them the right to set the laws on reservation land—should allow them to legally cultivate and sell cannabis.

I think it's going to win by a landslide. People will be coming in from all directions to get their medicine. Oglala Sioux Tribal Leader, Ricky Gray Grass

The Oglala Sioux tribal council has confirmed that they will begin developing a licensing and regulatory framework to govern the sale of cannabis on their reservation at its next meeting, which takes place later this month on March 30.

Initial reports suggest that the tribe is not currently planning on engaging in cultivation and retail activities themselves but will instead rely on licensing independent companies—while also charging a 30% retail tax—to sell cannabis on the reservation.

According to the Oglala Sioux tribal leaders, the introduction of legalized marijuana could provide a huge economic benefit for the reservation, as it will attract scores of cannabis tourists.

In fact, the president of the Oglala Sioux tribe, Julian Bear Runner, stated that the marijuana vote was a crucial move to "jump-start" the local economy by providing new jobs and bringing in money to fix the regions crumbling roads.

This view was echoed by Oregon-based marijuana cultivator, Trent Hancock, who believes that the tribe could potentially make up to $100 million from cannabis sales per year.

The state is also gearing up to vote on its own cannabis legalization referendum later in the year, with both recreational and medicinal marijuana use currently on the November ballot.

Luckily for the Oglala Sioux, if the state does vote in favour of legalization then the launch will still mostly likely be delayed by several months as South Dakota lawmakers establish a regulatory framework for the industry, which should give the tribe plenty of time to exercise their first-mover advantage.

While the US attorney's office for South Dakota has thus far declined to weigh in on the situation, state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg has confirmed that he will be watching the development of the tribe's plans closely.

And according to Oglala Lakota's attorney general, Scott James, South Dakota's state laws will still apply non-tribal members, even if they are on reservation land, although how this rule would be enforced seems unclear at this point.

"Marijuana enforcement is not the federal government's highest priority at this point," James said.

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Hugo Gray
Hugo Gray

Hugo Gray is a Melbourne-based journalist with a body of work that covers a diverse range of topics, including immigration law, sex technology, and now the rapidly expanding cannabis industry.

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