Oglala Sioux Tribe considers putting legalized pot to vote


February 10 2014


PINE RIDGE, S.D. (AP) – An Oglala Sioux tribal committee has started a process that could allow a public vote on whether to legalize marijuana use on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

The tribal council’s business development committee approved the measure last week, and the full tribal council soon could approve a public vote, councilman Kevin Yellow Bird Steele told the Rapid City Journal.

Council members say they are considering marijuana’s medical uses, and some argued that it could ease the dependency of tribal members on powerful prescription painkillers.

“It’s not something the council wants to make a decision on by themselves,” Yellow Bird Steele said. “It will be up to the people across the reservation.”

Just last August, reservation members narrowly voted to end prohibition and sell alcohol on the tribal land.

The alcohol ban had been in place for most of the reservation’s 124-year history, with supporters arguing that legalization would only exacerbate the impoverished tribe’s problems with domestic abuse, suicide, infant mortality, unemployment and violent crime. But opponents noted that liquor stores in Whiteclay, Neb., a speck of a town along the reservation’s border, were selling millions of cans a beer a year.

Under the law, the tribe will own and operate stores on the reservation, and profits will be used for education and detoxification and treatment centers, for which there is currently little to no funding.

If the marijuana vote passes, the Pine Ridge reservation would join a number of states that have begun to turn the tide on pot use.

Tribal Councilman James Cross recalled the tribe’s reaction when South Dakota voters in 2010 rejected a proposal to legalize medicinal marijuana. The statewide vote failed by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. But a majority of Shannon County voters, where part of the Pine Ridge reservation is located, supported it.

Cross, who said he smoked in 1990 to help ease pain in his lower back when prescription painkillers left him unable to function, emphasized the medicinal needs over recreational use.

“It was really looking at the medical part of it first,” Cross said. “We really didn’t discuss revenue.”

Robin Tapio, a tribal councilwoman representing the Pine Ridge district, said she hasn’t decided whether she supports the proposal.

Tapio used marijuana to recover from cancer treatments in the mid-1980s, but she also regularly smoked pot until she was 45 and now worries that it may be addictive or cause health problems.