On Saturday, the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribal Council voted to temporarily suspend their marijuana operation. By that evening, their first marijuana crop was in flames.
The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe (FSST), of Flandreau, South Dakota, recently made national headlines after becoming the first tribal nation to legalize marijuana, this after the Department of Justice issued a memorandum in December 2014, which outlined that tribal nations may grow and sell marijuana as long as they comply with the same regulations as states who opt to legalize.
Photo courtesy Sarah Weston.
Shortly after the tribe voted to legalize marijuana, construction of a marijuana grow facility began, and the first seeds were planted back in September. A former bowling alley was also being transformed into a lounge where the marijuana would be dispensed and consumed, also consisting of four rooms devoted to medical marijuana treatment. The tribe intended to host a New Year’s Eve event on December 31, and make their first sales for consumption. All marijuana was to be sold 1 gram at a time, only to be consumed inside the marijuana lounge. Plants were tracked with a state-of-the-art tracking system, and barcodes allowed for the tracking of every move of each plant, from seed to sale. The project was expected to generate up to $2 million a month in profit.
But some South Dakota state officials scrutinized the plan, including Attorney General Marty Jackley, who has said that any changes in tribal law would only affect tribal members, therefore, non-tribal members ingesting marijuana on the reservation risked prosecution under state law. Jurisdictional issues were cited as a major point of concern. Also according to state officials, any non-tribal member returning to state land with marijuana in their system were violating state law, and thus, also subject to prosecution.
Tribal officials were prepared to manage the marijuana lounge with tight security, but still, to clarify the jurisdictional concerns, the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe consulted with federal officials, and has since made the decision to temporarily suspend the project.
FSST Attorney, Seth C. Pearman, released the following statement:
“After government-to-government consultation with the United States, the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe is temporarily suspending its marijuana cultivation and distribution facilities. This suspension is pivotal to the continued success of the marijuana venture, and Tribal leadership is confident that after seeking clarification from the United States Department of Justice, it will be better suited to succeed. The Tribe will continue to consult with the federal and state governments, and hopes to be granted parity with states that have legalized marijuana. The Tribe intends to successfully participate in the marijuana industry, and Tribal leadership is undaunted by this brief sidestep.”
Sources shared with tribal officials that Feds were prepared to raid the operation in approximately two weeks. Aside from destroying crops, a potential raid could have meant damage to the grow facility, which is an investment in itself.
“We are moving forward with a calculated approach,” tribal councilmember, Kenny Weston told ICTMN. “We made an investment, and we have to continue to protect that investment while legislation catches up to the current times.”
In order to maintain good faith with all levels of government, the Flandreau Santee Sioux tribe moved forward on their own terms, and proceeded to destroy their first crop. FSST tribal police were directed by tribal officials to destroy the crop by burning all plants, immediately outside of the grow facility.
KELOLand News of South Dakota reported that the tribe is “burning millions,” but Weston disagreed. “It was a very small amount burned, definitely not millions. We planted a very small amount to begin with.”
On Saturday, Attorney General Marty Jackley told the Associated Press that the tribe’s decision to temporarily suspend the project was “in the best interest of both tribal and non-tribal members.” He acknowledged that he and tribal officials haven’t always agreed, but he promised to help the tribe as it moved forward.
“We are still moving forward in our venture. Believe me when I say this, we will continue to advocate for our tribe and Indian country. We will advocate for sovereignty,” said councilmember Weston.
Outside of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, medical marijuana patients within the state of South Dakota looked forward to not having to travel outside of the state for treatment.
Melissa Mentele, a South Dakota nurse who provides medical marijuana treatment, told ICTMN, “The suspension of the grow facility is heart breaking for the patients and families in South Dakota. Many were hopeful that the FSST facility would provide access to life-saving medicine as soon as January for the hundreds of suffering South Dakota residents.”
Mentele, a retired nurse and disabled health care worker of 18 years, is also the Director of New Approach South Dakota, a political organization devoted to lobbying for medical marijuana legalization in the state.
“All of us at New Approach stand with the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe and their choice to suspend their operation until further clarification is made. We feel that the state’s position to threaten patients with prosecution under an archaic law is terribly wrong and unjustified. We will continue to support our allies in their mission to provide safe, legal access within the reservation and within the guidelines of the Cole Memorandum,” said Mentele.
The next step for the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, is to meet with state and federal officials, and hopefully strike an agreement. “We never approached this as us versus them,” said Weston. “We’re not taking that approach at all. We’re trying to work together, be pro-active, and continue to work government-to-government. Tribal, state, and federal officials can resolve this together.”