South Dakota’s Native American Weed Resort Goes Up in Smoke

News of a December 31 grand opening was slightly exaggerated.

Back in September, the Internet filled with the good news that the 400-member Santee Sioux Tribe of Flandreau, South Dakota, would open a marijuana resort on New Year’s Eve 2016. Time, Huffington Post, the New York Post, the Denver Post, the Billings Gazette, and BBC online all chimed in: The Santee Sioux already operated a hotel, a casino, and a ranch on their lands; the success of the planned marijuana smoking lounge—replete with games, a bar, and snacks—was a given. 

The only question about the future, pertaining to the Flandreau weed capitalists, was when would their envisioned slot machines and music venue become a reality?

“We want it to be an adult playground,” tribal president Anthony Reider told the AP news agency. “There’s nowhere else in America that has something like this.”

Unfortunately, there won’t be anywhere in America that has something like this any time soon, especially not in time for New Year’s Eve.

As the Argus Leader reported Saturday, money is no longer growing on leaves for the Flandreau Sioux. The tribe is temporarily suspending its marijuana cultivation and distributing facilities and is destroying its existing crop (by fire).

According to the tribe’s lawyer, Seth Pearman, the Santee Sioux leaders need a timeout to clarify regulations with the U.S. Department of Justice, after which, Pearman insists, the venture “will be better suited to succeed.”

Back in December 2014, the U.S. Justice Department directed U.S. attorneys not to interfere with Native Americans growing or selling marijuana on sovereign lands. The economic weed boon from that directive has yet to materialize, but not for lack of effort.

In the past three weeks alone, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of Cherokee, North Carolina, voted to do a feasibility study on marijuana production and sales, members of the Seneca Nation of New York approved a medical marijuana measure, and agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration raided a grow site and destroyed the crop on lands of Wisconsin’s Menominee Indian tribe.

Further back, in September, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s office raided and eradicated a medical-marijuana grow operation on lands of the Pinoleville Pomo Nation.

Despite these mixed messages, or perhaps because of them, optimism endures in Flandreu, South Dakota, especially with the state’s attorney general, Marty Jackley, who told the Associated Press that the back pedal on marijuana profiteering was “positive.”

The Squaxin Island Tribe of Washington state is also feeling positive. A press release from tribal members announced that a new retail marijuana story, Elevation, will open for business on the Squaxin lands at 4:20 p.m., Thursday, November 12.

What’s the difference between the Squaxin Island Tribe and the Santee Sioux of Flandreau? One lives in a state with legal recreational marijuana. The other is situated in South Dakota.