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'We're going to practice our sovereign rights': Oglala Sioux Tribe enters new era with cannabis vote

The Oglala Sioux Tribe approved referendum measures Tuesday allowing the use of marijuana on the Pine Ridge Reservation for both medical and recreational purposes, but tribal citizens rejected a measure that would have allowed the tribe to sell alcohol in the reservation’s two casinos.

Unofficial vote totals showed tribal citizens struck down the alcohol measure with 885 voting for it and 1,428 voting against it. Voters approved the medical marijuana measure with 1,840 voting for it and 412 voting against it, and they approved the recreational marijuana measure with 1,585 voting for it and 576 voting against it, according to the preliminary results.

Ricky Gray Grass, fifth member of the tribe’s executive committee, said the tribe must now begin drafting regulations to establish a taxing system for marijuana sales. He said the tribe doesn’t plan to grow or sell marijuana itself but will allow individual tribal citizens to do so. The tribe is concerned that getting into the marijuana business would risk the loss of federal funds.

“We’re going to practice our sovereign rights under the treaties,” Gray Grass said in an interview. “Being a sovereign nation we have the rights to govern ourselves and have our own laws.”

OST REFERENDUM UNOFFICIAL RESULTS WHITECLAY/OGLALA Alcohol yes 100 No 226 Med Marijuana yes 250 No 119 Rev marijuana...

Posted by Oglala Sioux Tribe - OST on Wednesday, March 11, 2020

In 2015, the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe of South Dakota abandoned its plans to open a cannabis resort and burned its crop fearing the tribe’s marijuana operation would be raided by federal agents.

Gray Grass said he is hopeful the Oglala Sioux Tribe can work with federal and state officials to ensure his tribe’s citizens aren’t penalized for growing and selling marijuana. Medical and recreational use of marijuana isn’t currently legal in South Dakota.

He said the tribe is examining the regulations enacted by the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, which legalized marijuana growing and sales and opened two marijuana dispensaries. He said the tribe is also examining the state of Colorado’s marijuana regulatory system, which includes a 19.2 percent tax on marijuana sales.

“It’s going to take time to work on the laws,” Gray Grass said.

He said at least a dozen individual tribal citizens have expressed interest in growing marijuana and two others said they want to open marijuana dispensaries. The tribe doesn’t plan to allow large marijuana distributors to sell marijuana on the reservation.

He said the tribe conducted listening sessions and even hosted a two-day cannabis conference about two weeks ago to educate people about how marijuana sales would be regulated.

He said he is happy tribal citizens agreed that the benefits of marijuana outweighed the possible negatives of allowing marijuana sales.

“I was excited for the people that went out and voted,” he said. “I think this is the biggest turnout in any election.”

"When our people vote on whether to allow alcohol onto our homelands, my vote will be NO" Thank you to the Horse Nation, riders and support. No to Alcohol on March 10, 2020 (7am-7pm mst)

Posted by Julian Bear Runner, Oglala Sioux Tribe President on Monday, February 24, 2020

In August 2013, the Oglala Sioux citizens voted by a margin of 52 to 48 percent to legalize alcohol at Pine Ridge, one of the last dry reservations in the country. The ordinance was never enacted because tribal officials charged with implementing it but who opposed legalization failed to enact it.

Bryan Brewer, who was the tribe’s president at that time, said he opposed alcohol legalization then and remains opposed to it. He said the 2013 referendum was handled poorly and only about half of the reservation’s voting precincts had open polling sites.

“A lot of the people did not get to vote,” Brewer said in an interview. “This (election) was run right, and the people got out to vote.”

“I’m really happy with it. I really am.”

He said he supported legalization of marijuana use, saying marijuana sales and taxation could provide significant revenue for the tribe and for individual tribal citizens.

“That could be a big economic boost for the tribe if we can do it and the tribe does it right,” he said. “Maybe the people could make a little money.”

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