South Dakota tribe develops marijuana resort after legalizing pot

A small South Dakota tribe plans to open a resort where visitors can legally buy and consume marijuana grown on the reservation, even though pot possession is illegal off the reservation in that state.

First of its kind in North America, says tribal attorney Seth Pearman

'We want it to be an adult playground,' says Anthony Reider, president of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. (Anthony Reider (Facebook))

A small South Dakota tribe plans to open a resort where visitors can legally buy and consume marijuana grown on the reservation, even though pot possession is illegal off the reservation in that state.

"We want it to be an adult playground," says Anthony Reider, president of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, which has just over 400 members. 

"There's nowhere else in America that has something like this," Reider told The Associated Press.

Tribal attorney Seth Pearman says other tribes are already looking at this venture with interest. 

The new marijuana resort will be an addition to the tribe's existing 120-room hotel and casino and will be located on the reservation, which is around 700 kilometres south of Winnipeg.

"We're taking a bowling alley that was once the tribe's original casino and turning it into a very high-class, 10,000-square-foot club where people can come and consume," says Pearman. 

An employee of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe in South Dakota inspects marijuana being grown in a secure facility on the reservation, located 700 kilometres south of Winnipeg. (Associated Press)
A state-of-the-art growing facility has already been built, with the first range of products expected to be ready for the resort's grand opening on New Year's Eve.

The project, according to the tribe, could generate up to $2 million a month in profit.

"Colorado's made so much money that they're issuing tax refunds to people," says Pearman. 

"It's a booming market, kind of like Indian gaming back in the '90s." 

The tribe legalized marijuana in June, months after the U.S. Justice Department outlined a new policy that allows tribes to grow and sell marijuana under the same conditions as some states. The policy does not mean that marijuana use is automatically legal on all reservations — tribes still have the power to decide whether to allow its use and under what conditions.   

Pearman says the Flandreau Santee Sioux will be hosting a conference this coming October where other tribes can view the facilities.

"The vast majority of tribes have little to no economic opportunity," said Blake Trueblood, business development director at the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. For those tribes, "this is something that you might look at and say,`We've got to do something,'" he told the AP.
 
The Santee Sioux intends to use pot in the same way that many tribes rely on casinos — to make money for community services and to provide a monthly income to tribal members. The existing enterprises support family homes, a senior living community, a clinic and a community center offering after-school programs.

Pearman admits some community members worry pot might find its way to the community's kids. But he says the resort will be a secure facility and says it will be the only place marijuana can be legally consumed on their tribal land.

About the Author

Tim Fontaine

Tim Fontaine is a Winnipeg-based writer who has worked for APTN National News and CBC Indigenous. You can follow him on Twitter: @anishinaboy.

With files from The Associated Press