Julian Bear Runner serves as president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Oglala Sioux Tribe votes on legalizing marijuana and alcohol

Citizens of the Oglala Sioux Tribe are weighing two big issues this week.

Tribal voters are being asked to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. They are also being asked to approve the sale of liquor at gaming facilities on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

“I think it’s going to win by a landslide,” Ricky Gray Grass, a tribal council member, told the Associated Press in reference to marijuana.

Regardless of the outcome, marijuana is still considered illegal under federal law. Federal authorities could prosecute anyone -- Indian and non-Indian alike -- for possessing, transporting, selling or cultivating marijuana.

Marijuana is also illegal under South Dakota law. Though the state generally lacks jurisdiction over the activities of Indians in Indian Country, authorities in the past prosecuted non-Indians who engaged in a marijuana business that was to be operated by the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe.

"When our people vote on whether to allow alcohol onto our homelands, my vote will be NO" Thank you to the Horse Nation, riders and support. No to Alcohol on March 10, 2020 (7am-7pm mst)

Posted by Julian Bear Runner, Oglala Sioux Tribe President on Monday, February 24, 2020

As for alcohol, the issue appears to be just as contentious. President Julian Bear Runner is against it, according to a post on social media.

"When our people vote on whether to allow alcohol onto our homelands, my vote will be NO," Bear Runner said in encouraging a "NO" vote at the polls this Tuesday.

In the past, tribal leaders have been vocal about the sale of liquor in the town of Whiteclay, Nebraska, which is right outside the border of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Many believed non-Indian businesses purposed targeted and exploited Indian people for decades while authorities ignored violations of the law in the small community. Sales were eventually halted in 2017.

Tribal voters approved liquor sales in 2013 but the outcome was not accepted by tribal leadership. A follow-up vote in 2016 was called off at the last minute.

Read More on the Story
South Dakota tribe set to vote on legalizing marijuana (The Associated Press March 8, 2020)

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