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Lakota Country Times: Alex White Plume continues hemp battle

The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey, Lakota Country Times Editor. For more news, subscribe to the Lakota Country Times today. All content © Lakota Country Times.

Oglala Sioux Tribal citizen Alex White Plume has asked the courts to lift a decade old injunction that prevents him from growing hemp on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Photo courtesy

White Plume asks feds to step aside
By Brandon Ecoffey
LCT Editor

MANDERSON— With recent shifts in policy at all levels of government and an ever softening position amongst the general public about the criminalization of marijuana, one Oglala Lakota citizen is again reigniting his efforts to grow and manufacture hemp on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

For more than ten years Oglala Lakota citizen, Alex White Plume, has lobbied tribal, state, and federal officials to grant him the right to grow and manufacture industrialized hemp. Although the tribe has been open to hemp farming in the past the federal government has stood by a decade old injunction that prevents White Plume from harvesting industrialized hemp on the Reservation.

“Significant changes in the country’s Cannabis-related laws and the way in which they are enforced have altered the legal landscape under which Alex White Plume was subjected to a permanent injunction preventing him from growing and cultivating industrial hemp,” said White Plume’s lawyers in a letter to the court asking that the injunction be lifted.

According to Tim Purdon of Robins Kaplan LLP, the firm representing White Plume, court documents were filed late last month asking the United States District Court of Western South Dakota to lift the injunction.

“As far as I know this is the only injunction of its kind,” said Purdon in an interview with LCT. “We have gone ahead and asked the court to lift the injunction that prevents Mr. White Plume from manufacturing hemp,” he added.

In 2004, a first of its kind injunction was placed on White Plume preventing him from growing hemp on his land located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Late last month White Plume made yet another attempt to tap in to this lucrative manufacturing field by asking the courts to lift the injunction and allow him to bring much needed economic development to his people.

Since the initial junction was put in place nearly ten years ago the federal government and individual State’s have begun reexamining their policies on marijuana and hemp. White Plume’s early efforts to earn the endorsement of his own tribal government quickly returned results as the tribe passed a law in 1998 delineating between hemp and marijuana within its own legal code. The tribe’s law states that the difference between the two is that hemp plants contain less that 1% of the substances that result in a person becoming “high” when consumed.

In court documents filed on behalf of White Plume these levels of potency were explained.

“Marijuana, in the traditional medicinal, recreational, or spiritual context, involves cannabis flowers that contain5-10% or more of tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC)— the compound responsible for marijuana's psychoactive effect if present in a high enough percentage," White Plume's attorneys wrote. "Industrial hemp, by contrast, involves the use of the cannabis stalk and seeds for textiles, foods, papers, body care products, detergents, plastics, and building materials, and it contains a THC concentration of 1% or less by weight.”

Although the two plants have been cast in the same light by both the federal government and other lobbies seeking to prevent hemp harvesting, much of what the general public has been fed by the government is largely untrue. One of the most common misconceptions surrounding hemp is that it can be used like marijuana to alter one’s state of being.

This belief however is fundamentally wrong according to Dr. David West Ph.D. of the North American Industrial Hemp Council.

“The THC levels in industrial hemp are so low that no one could get high from smoking it. Moreover, hemp contains a relatively high percentage of another cannabinoid, CBD, that actually blocks the marijuana high. Hemp, it turns out, is not only not marijuana; it could be called ‘antimarijuana’," said Dr. West. “Hemp is grown quite differently from marijuana. Moreover, it is harvested at a different time than marijuana. Finally, cross-pollination between hemp plants and marijuana plants would significantly reduce the potency of the marijuana plant.”

After the Oglala Sioux Tribe voted to amend its’ tribal legal code in 1998, White Plume, would plant and raise his first crop in 2000. This initial crop along with one in 2001 and 2002 were all raided and destroyed by federal agents before they could be harvested and manufactured. The 2002 crop was tested and traced amounts of THC were found in the hemp and government officials declined to charge White Plume with a crime under the Controlled Substances Act and instead chose to seek out an injunction barring him from growing. In 2004 the United States Government would ask for a permanent injunction barring White Plume from growing and harvesting hemp.

In the decade since the injunction was put in to place there has been a radical shift in how both marijuana and hemp as seen by society and the federal government. Four states have decriminalized marijuana for recreational use, twelve have both medical marijuana and decriminalization laws, and nine have legalized medical marijuana. Twenty-two states have enacted legislation opening the door for hemp manufacturing. Tribes however fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

Recently, Congress has voted to not provide funds for the enforcement of raids by federal agents against marijuana dispensaries who are legally operating under state law, however, Purdon, stated that he was not comfortable saying that these actions could be applied to White Plume but that there is a possibility that both a memorandum from the Department of Justice and the 2014 farm bill could help White Plume get the injunction lifted.

In August of 2013 the Department of Justice drafted what would become known as the Cole Memorandum that laid out the parameters under which states could enact marijuana legalization laws without interference from the federal government. This memorandum was then bolstered by a report from the DOJ saying that these same factors would be applied to Indian Country.

The 2014 Farm Bill also opened a door for the widespread production of hemp across the country as it recognized the difference between marijuana and hemp, a delineation that the federal government had not acknowledged until this point. The 2014 farm bill and a specific section of the bill allows for the cultivation of industrial hemp under certain conditions including research.

Attorneys for White Plume feel that these same conditions should be made available to White Plume.

The United States Attorney’s office in South Dakota however has said that they oppose lifting the injunction as White Plume “does not fall within the exception to the CSA under the Farm Bill allowing for the cultivation or growing of industrial hemp. He is not conducting research under a pilot project, and he is not an institution of higher learning or State department of agriculture,” said acting U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota Randy Seiler.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe has backed White Plume in his efforts to have the injunction lifted.

“Having the White Plume Hemp injunction lifted is an important first step in supporting sustainable economic development at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation so that they and the other members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe will have an opportunity to realize the benefits of industrial hemp as an agricultural product and potential revenue generator for the tribe and tribal members,” said Oglala Sioux Tribal President John Steele in a letter to the U.S. Attorney. “Hemp farming is legal on the Pine Ridge Reservation under tribal ordinance 98-27.”

Tribes do have the right to enact laws, however, federal law enforcement have exercised jurisdiction over major crimes on reservations and violations of the controlled substances act are considered one of the major crimes they are responsible for enforcing.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at

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