Exploring the possibilities of pot on Pine Ridge - KSFY News - Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

Exploring the possibilities of pot on Pine Ridge

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During January alone, the state of Colorado reported more than a million dollars in extra tax revenue from recreational marijuana sales. It is one of two states making pot available to the masses this year.

18 other states and the District of Columbia have passed laws allowing medicinal marijuana. It has been decriminalized to some extent in several others, meaning possession does not necessarily mean jail time.

The last push to bring medical marijuana to South Dakota was shot down by voters in 2010, but now, one Tribe will let its people decide.

The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council is looking into the possibilities of pot.

The idea was first put in motion by the Economic Development Committee, but extra money for impoverished Pine Ridge is just part of the motivation.

"No doubt there would be some dollars coming here, but the reason I put it out there was the medical. What we have here is a prescription drug problem," said Larry Eagle Bull, a Tribal Council member representing the Pine Ridge District.

Eagle Bull says it's not just those with addiction issues he's concerned about, "If you look at it, if you're constantly in pain, you take these pain pills and that eventually damages your liver."

Last year, the Oglala Sioux Tribe voted to legalize alcohol after more than a century of prohibition. It was a decision that drew vocal and legal resistance from Tribal members.

"We did the vote on the alcohol without it really going out to the districts, to the communities, without educating the people. We didn't have a plan for what would happen if it was legalized," said Oglala Sioux Tribe President Bryan Brewer.

Eagle Bull says although alcohol and marijuana often get lumped together, they are separate issues, "To really judge the effects, you probably have to smoke it, to realize what the difference between pot and alcohol is. In the 70's, I did, but then I joined the Navy and that was the end of my smoking."

This is not the first time Pine Ridge has explored the use of plants deemed illegal by the Federal Government.

"Hemp was legalized on the Reservation a number of years ago. They did try to grow it here and a gentleman was arrested," said Brewer.

Now, with more states and even the president rethinking the marijuana issue, so are Tribal leaders.

"This is the time to start exploring it," says Eagle Bull, "We've been held back a long time, and like I said earlier, our people don't want pills."

The next step will be polling in Pine Ridge's nine districts. A committee will ask whether people support medicinal marijuana, recreational marijuana, or no marijuana at all.

"If it just goes for the medicinal, that's a plus for us. Plus for the person who has to deal with pain," said Eagle Bull.

Tribal leaders are under no illusions. They know legalizing marijuana won't be as simple as a public vote.

"We're gonna be running into a lot of hurdles and a lot of obstacles. A lot of brick walls with the state in trying to legalize medical marijuana," said Oglala Sioux Tribe Vice President Tom Poor Bear.

"I know even with some of the states where it is legalized now, they still may have some problems with the Feds," said Brewer.

"So we really have to get our ducks in order before we even go into it, implement it," said Eagle Bull.

No matter what happens, this is not a decision the Oglala Sioux Tribe plans to rush.

"If we do it, we want to do it right," said Brewer.

So, how does the state feel about the prospect of legal marijuana on Pine Ridge? South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley issued the following statement to KSFY News:

"As South Dakota's Attorney General, I respect each of our Tribe's sovereign authority to pass laws that govern their tribal members within Indian country. It is likewise important to appreciate that South Dakota law prohibits use of marijuana, and that it remains law enforcement's responsibility to enforce those laws. Equally important is to appreciate that current federal law prohibits marijuana, and that US Attorney General Holder is responsible for enforcing federal law."

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