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Native Sun News: Oglala Sioux Tribe weighs legal marijuana

The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey, Native Sun News Managing Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

An estimated $1 million in sales took place in Colorado on New Year’s Day 2012, the first day of legal sales.

Referendum on marijuana next for Pine Ridge?
By Brandon Ecoffey
Native Sun News Managing Editor

PINE RIDGE — The Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Economic and Business Development committee passed a resolution last Friday to send the issue of the legalization of marijuana for medicinal and recreational use on the reservation to a referendum vote.

The tribe’s most recent referendum vote pertained to the legalization of the sale and possession of alcohol on the reservation. Although the measure was passed by the populace with a voter turnout higher than the last presidential election there has yet to be any action taken in the development of a legal code that would allow for sales to begin as a result of multiple legal challenges.

The lack of economic development on the reservation and legal wrangling has led to a feeling of frustration by many residents who see a need for innovative business ventures on the reservation.

“We couldn’t even vote Russell Means into office and Alex (White Plume) only served one term even though his idea to legalize hemp production would have changed the economic future of the reservation,” said Kyle Mesteth, a resident of Pine Ridge. “I am supportive of a measure that would legalize pot for many reasons but legal pot on the reservation is like trying to develop a space program. This is a place full of vulnerable people and others who are against anything. We will probably have more protests than smoke shops.” Although there have been those who have opposed the legalization of marijuana in states like Colorado and Washington, there is data supporting the the economic and public health benefits of the elimination of marijuana prohibition.

In a study conducted by researchers out of the UCLA researchers determined that there may actually be more benefits to the public good than harm.

“Based on existing empirical evidence, we expect that the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington will lead to increased marijuana consumption coupled with decreased alcohol consumption. As a consequence, these states will experience a reduction in the social harms resulting from alcohol use. While it is more than likely that marijuana produced by state-sanctioned growers will end up in the hands of minors, we predict that overall youth consumption will remain stable. On net, we predict the public-health benefits of legalization to be positive,” the study read.

Not only has there been support for the legalization from some public health professionals there is undoubtedly a swell of support for changes in how marijuana is seen viewed legally by economists. In a letter signed by economists Milton Friedman, Nobel Laureate George Akerlof, Daron Acemoglu of MIT, and several others the potential benefits of a change were touted.

“…replacing prohibition with a system of taxation and regulation -- would save $7.7 billion per year in state and federal expenditures on prohibition enforcement and produce tax revenues of at least $2.4 billion annually if marijuana were taxed like most consumer goods. If, however, marijuana were taxed similarly to alcohol or tobacco, it might generate as much as $6.2 billion annually,” they said.

Possession of marijuana is a victimless crime and yet there are many Native Americans serving time behind bars for its use.

For tribes like the Oglala Sioux who are consistently listed as one of the poorest in all of North America and whose primary industry is tourism the legalization of marijuana could potentially open up an entirely new market of consumers and to alleviate the misuse and dependence on prescription pain killers according to Larry Eagle Bull a member of the committee.

“I put this on the agenda for a couple of reasons. We looked to states like Colorado as examples of how to do it and they are making money and doing good things with it. This is something that would do more than legalizing alcohol and it is something that will help people with the addiction to painkillers,” he said. “Even the NFL is considering stopping the testing for marijuana because they know that it can help their players with a number of health issues. The other part of it is that this opens up the hemp industry.”

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