Brandon Ecoffey: Legalize marijuana on Pine Ridge Reservation

The following editorial by Brandon Ecoffey, Native Sun News Managing Editor, appears in the latest issue of the Native Sun News. All content © Native Sun News.

It is time to legalize pot in Pine Ridge
By Brandon Ecoffey
Native Sun News Managing Editor

With the decision last week by the OST Tribal Council to hold a referendum vote instead of a preliminary poll on the legalization of marijuana on the reservation I could not help but imagine the possibilities and the hurdles that accompany legalization.

For most on the reservation the struggle is finding enough money to buy enough gas to take their kids to school or drive to work or just run every day errands that most people take for granted. The foresight to plan for upward mobility is a luxury that the working poor simply do not have at their disposal. I want upward mobility to be an option not an illusion for tribal members. The legalization of pot and hemp and the accompanying cottage industries would allow for this.

The notion that marijuana users are lazy and unproductive stoners is like most stereotypes fueled by ignorance. Part of the pitch used by states like Colorado in their campaigns for legalization was that it would attract the top talent and minds from across the country to come work in the state. For someone who has spent a significant amount of time in the Ivy League frat scene I can tell you first hand that some of the people occupying top positions in this country’s most profitable businesses indulged in the recreational use of pot from time to time.

For those who want to work on the reservation it is often difficult to find a job, for those with advanced degrees your options are even further limited. The lack of high paying or even mediocre paying jobs keeps many in poverty and forces some of the brightest minds to move away from the reservation in search of that ever elusive American dream.

The multiple facets of the pot industry will create employment for our most educated as well as those with only an elementary education. Legalization will immediately provide a boost to those tribal members working in the construction and agricultural fields as well as increase the value of land for tribal members. Entrepreneurs on the reservation should be salivating over the opportunities to create startups like campgrounds, coffee shops, and automobile repair shops. Artisans will finally be able to sell their products at market value to the pot tourists that will travel from across the world to both partake in the consumption of the tribal national product and hear the history that only our storytellers can provide context to, at a fair price of course.

This strong economy based in a national product, small business development, strong wages, and an abundant tax base will allow for the tribe to invest in infrastructure, treatment facilities for those who need it, and to fight the necessary fights like opposing Keystone XL and stopping uranium mining.

The need to begin this process and complete it in a timely matter is of the upmost importance however. Although technically federal law is being violated by Colorado and Washington, Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration has declined to enforce these laws and have taken a wait and see approach. All the while these two states are reaping the economic and social benefits associated with increased tax revenue and a lessening of incarceration rates. It would be unjustifiable for the Obama administration to come down on economically burdened tribes when other states are being left to profit. The time to do this is now.

As with any business venture the tribe will need to do their part in pitching this politically to the State of South Dakota and the federal government. Although increased tourism should be seen as a good thing for South Dakota, there has been a trend of the state standing in the way of any positive development on Indian reservations.

The feds will require an even more diligent approach to get them to stand back and allow for this to happen unopposed but for them to actually support it. I propose to help streamline the process the tribe would not only nationalize the sale of pot but agree to negotiated regulations overseen by the federal government that would prevent embezzlement and the influx of criminal elements. The model created by the tribe could potentially be implemented across the country with the Oglala dictating policy decisions like we have done for so long.

There are those who fear the danger of addiction and this is a concern but addiction is already present and we lack the funds to address it. I ask these same people to show me one person who has overdosed on marijuana, and to quote Tucker Max, “I will show you my stable of rainbow colored unicorns ridden by Leprechauns.” The time to legalize is now.

(Brandon Ecoffey can be reached at staffwriter2@nsweekly.com)