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Oglala Tribe Allows Marijuana Sales; Alcohol Banned On Rez

The Oglala Sioux Tribe voted in 2020 to allow adult-use Cannabis. But the tribe has prohibited alcohol for a century


The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota allows marijuana, but not booze, reports Kaiser Health News. Citizens of the Oglala Sioux Tribe overwhelmingly voted in 2020 to legalize adult-use and medical Cannabis on their huge reservation.

The tribe has prohibited the sale and consumption of alcohol for more than 100 years.

Customers visiting a dispensary said they view marijuana as a safe and natural way to get relief from mental health disorders and chronic illnesses, common among tribal citizens. But they said alcohol has wreaked negatively impacted the health, safety, and life expectancy of tribal members.

“Cannabis Is A Natural Plant That Comes From The Earth”

“Cannabis is a natural plant that comes from the Earth—and our people lived off the land, and they got their medicine from the land,” Ann Marie Beane said while shopping at the No Worries dispensary in the small town of Pine Ridge. “Our Indigenous people, they suffer a lot from diabetes and cancer and various other illnesses, but the cannabis really helps them.”

Both Beane and her 22-year-old daughter said they use marijuana to ease anxiety.

Shoppers at No Worries said weed is less dangerous than alcohol, meth, and opioids. Those drugs lead to high rates of premature deaths on the reservation, through car crashes, violence, and disease.

25% Of Oglala Children Have Fetal Alcohol Exposure Issues

The U.S. federal government established the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1889. The reservation covers more than 2 million acres of small towns, ranchland, prairies, and “badlands.” The U.S. Census Bureau says it has about 20,000 residents. But community members said that’s a vast undercount, and that the actual population could be twice as high at 40,000.

Alcohol has been illegal there for most of the reservation’s history. But that hasn’t stopped bootlegging and alcoholism. “It’s killing our youth—it’s killing our future generation,” Beane said.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe said in a 2012 lawsuit that about 25 percent of children born on the reservation had health or behavioral problems caused by fetal alcohol exposure. The lawsuit was filed against since-closed beer stores across the border in Nebraska.

More Oglala Sioux Use Cannabis Medicinally

The average life expectancy is just 64.5 years in Oglala Lakota County. That includes much of the Pine Ridge Reservation, according to a 2019 estimate from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. That’s the lowest of any county in the U.S., and about 15 years lower than the national average.

Native Americans have high rates of health problems. Experts attribute that to poverty and harm to their communities caused by federal policies. Those who live on reservations often have limited access to health care services and healthy food. Their main healthcare provider is the Indian Health Service, which has been dogged by complaints of underfunding and substandard care.

Only a few customers at No Worries said they use Cannabis for purely recreational reasons. More said they use it to relieve anxiety, pain, and other medical conditions.

Tribe Approved Marijuana In 2020

In 2020, tribal citizens approved the marijuana initiatives for the Pine Ridge Reservation. But at the same time, they rejected a proposal to legalize alcohol sales and consumption within the two casinos on the reservation.

In 2013, voters approved a referendum to legalize alcohol reservation-wide by a narrow margin. But the tribal council never implemented the change.

Lakota people did not use marijuana in pre-colonial times, said Craig Howe, a Lakota historian. Lakota and other Great Plains tribes also didn’t use alcohol until it was introduced by white traders in the 1800s.

People Must Be 21 And Older To Buy Cannabis

People must be 21 or older to buy or use cannabis, according to Oglala Sioux law. They can face jail time for providing weed to minors. There are fines for using the herb while driving.

Dispensaries can sell only ganja grown on the reservation, and customers are prohibited from transporting marijuana elsewhere. But about 40 percent of No Worries customers live outside the reservation, with many traveling from the Black Hills of South Dakota or northwestern Nebraska, according to owner Adonis Saltes.

South Dakota has medical marijuana, but adult-use weed is illegal. That means cops could charge anyone caught transporting or using weed outside the reservation’s boundaries. But the sheriff’s office in Pennington County, bordering the Pine Ridge Reservation, said it hasn’t arrested anyone on such charges.

That contrasts with the experience of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe on the eastern side of South Dakota. State and local law enforcement officers are charging Native Americans and non-Natives who leave the reservation with marijuana from the tribe’s medical dispensary, according to Seth Pearman, the tribe’s attorney general.

South Dakota voters will get a chance to weigh in on adult-use Cannabis legalization in November.

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