Pine Ridge reservation considers legalizing marijuana

2014-02-02T05:00:00Z Pine Ridge reservation considers legalizing marijuanaJoe O'Sullivan Journal staff Rapid City Journal
February 02, 2014 5:00 am  • 

PINE RIDGE | After Robin Tapio endured 10 months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment for breast cancer, she turned to marijuana to feel better.

"I wasn’t eating and the pain and everything,” the Pine Ridge woman said recently. “As soon as I got done smoking, I got my taste buds back and the pain in my body went away.”

But Tapio, now 55, was breaking state and federal law and facing possible imprisonment when she chose to smoke pot to ease her pain and stimulate her appetite.

That could soon change, however.

Last week, the Oglala Sioux Tribal council's business development committee approved a measure that starts the process to allow a public vote on whether to legalize marijuana use on the reservation.

If so, the tribe that just last year voted to legalize alcohol within its borders might become the first in the country to legalize marijuana.

Pros and cons

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

As she sat last week in nearly-empty tribal council chambers, Tapio weighed her multiple perspectives. She used marijuana to recover from cancer treatments in the mid-1980s. But Tapio also regularly smoked pot until she was 45 and now worries that it may be addictive or cause health problems.

Tribal Councilman James Cross supports it, however.

He 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.

"A lot of people who never tried it or never used it are going to be against it," Cross said. You're going to always have that resistance."

Cross said he smoked joints in 1990 to help ease pain in his lower back when prescription painkillers left him unable to function. While he supports the measure, he 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 ... it was just the medical part of it.”

Tribal council members also argue that medical marijuana could ease the dependency of tribal members on powerful prescription painkillers.

“It did come up in one of our council meetings that people were abusing painkillers,” Tribal Councilman Kevin Yellow Bird Steele said. “This would be an alternative.”

Pot pioneers?

The Pine Ridge reservation would likely be the first in the country to legalize marijuana, according to R. Keith Stroup, legal counsel for NORML, a marijuana law reform group.

"I am not aware of any tribe that has previously attempted this," Stroup wrote in an email. "And I am sure we would know if it had occurred."

If so, the Pine Ridge reservation would join a number of states that have begun to turn the tide on marijuana use. After having been legal for most of America's early history, states began outlawing the substance starting in 1913. The federal government followed suit in 1970 and since then thousands of people have been sent to prison for marijuana offenses.

But starting in 1996, when California legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, attitudes about the drug began to change. Within a few years other states, including Montana and Colorado, legalized medical marijuana. Then in 2012 and in defiance of federal law, Colorado and Washington voters passed measures to legalize it.

But as with other political issues, legalization has supporters and opponents. Those opposed to legal marijuana point to studies showing that it can be addictive and hurt the development of the brain in younger people.

Those in favor, like Tribal Councilman Garfield Steele, like to point out that alcohol, which is woven deeply into the country's social fabric, is legal.

"When you compare it to alcohol, you have numerous stats about alcohol killing people," Steele said last week in a phone interview.

The tribal council could approve a public vote in the next month or so, Yellow Bird Steele said.

"It's not something the council wants to make a decision on by themselves," he said. "It will be up to the people across the reservation."

Contact Joe O'Sullivan at 394-8414 or

Copyright 2015 Rapid City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(35) Comments

  1. unicorn21
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    unicorn21 - February 10, 2014 1:22 pm
    legalize pot which is a drug then whats next legalize meth.. dumb
  2. trustno1
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    trustno1 - February 08, 2014 5:41 pm
    One way or another, less people on welfare?
  3. barry freed
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    barry freed - February 08, 2014 8:54 am
    Pound for pound, Marijuana produces more Natural Gas than any other plant on Earth. Grind it up, seal it in a barrel, and start burning Gas. No money for heating fuel on the Reservations? Grow Marijuana and Hemp to fund the Production/Distribution Infrastructure and provide the Fuel. No more people freezing to death.
  4. cowboy
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    cowboy - February 06, 2014 1:09 pm
    "Even if one takes every reefer madness allegation of the prohibitionists at face value, marijuana prohibition has done far harm to far more people than marijuana ever could..." William F. Buckley Jr., an American Conservative Author & Commentator

  5. matyowambo
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    matyowambo - February 06, 2014 9:53 am
    Please, show us the studies that strongly correlate people high on marijuana to them committing "cides" as you put it.

    The point is that many people already smoke and aren't hurting anybody by doing so. Throwing them in jail is substantially more detrimental to their lives than just letting them smoke marijuana.

    People are worried that smoking marijuana causes people to be non-productive members of society who aren't able to get good jobs and become a drain on those who are productive.

    To remedy this situation, we arrest them and put them into jail where they are certainly non-productive members of society who will now have substantially less chance of getting a good job and are a drain on people who are productive. Hmmm....

    Plus to say that smoking weed makes you a loser is just ignorant. Michael Phelps holds the all time record for most Olympic gold medals as well as many other records. Barack Obama smoked and has won two terms as president of the United States. I don't know how you can be more of a "winner" than those accomplishments.

    The next argument is usually fear of driving accidents. Look at the DOT stats from states that have some legal form of marijuana. Specifically, check out Montana. After legalizing medical marijuana their driving fatalities went down. After implementing heavier restrictions on obtaining medical marijuana, their driving fatalities began to increase. Hmmm...

    FlipSide, you and other opponents are the ones living in a fantasy world.
  6. Deklan
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    Deklan - February 05, 2014 10:13 am
    Tobacco causes damage, and alcohol is an intoxicant which can cause damage.

    So then, should the evidence of those two be ignored in the quest to legalize marijuana?
  7. trustno1
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    trustno1 - February 05, 2014 9:06 am
    none so blind as those who refuse to see. I suppose that works the same for hearing, too.
  8. Kevin Cronin
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    Kevin Cronin - February 05, 2014 8:39 am
    What's next? NASCAR?
  9. Kevin Cronin
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    Kevin Cronin - February 05, 2014 8:39 am
    Maybe Shotgun Willies can relocate there. Make it a trifecta.
  10. Kevin Cronin
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    Kevin Cronin - February 05, 2014 8:38 am
    Good grief!
  11. Kevin Cronin
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    Kevin Cronin - February 05, 2014 8:37 am
    Not really.
  12. Kevin Cronin
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    Kevin Cronin - February 05, 2014 8:37 am
    There is plenty of things they could sell in Pine Ridge - what makes you think they would be successful in selling MJ? Legalizing MJ does not equate with all of their problems going up in smoke.
  13. Kevin Cronin
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    Kevin Cronin - February 05, 2014 8:35 am
    They have been very successful as a "sovereign nation". Legalized marijuana use will only improve things. Right?
  14. Kevin Cronin
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    Kevin Cronin - February 05, 2014 8:34 am
    I hear that you can get a lot of money selling EBT cards for 50 cents on the dollar. That's one example.
  15. FlipSide
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    FlipSide - February 05, 2014 8:28 am
    Sorry, I can't hear you. You're going to have to speak up.
  16. Magaska
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    Magaska - February 04, 2014 9:48 pm
    Using it for my ties has nothing to do with my body...I dont smoke either, nor do I consume alcohol..nor will I condone its use..
  17. Reader1
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    Reader1 - February 04, 2014 5:19 pm
    Since Pine Ridge is one of the poorest places in the country, where will the money to purchase marijuana come from? I also noticed that there is once again a bill before the South Dakota legislature to require drug testing for anyone receiving welfare. If this bill was to pass and marijuana was legalized on the reservation, what do you think would happen?
  18. trustno1
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    trustno1 - February 04, 2014 3:40 pm
    I give up. What were the ingredients?
  19. Native Thoughts101
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    Native Thoughts101 - February 04, 2014 12:38 pm
    Yeah I'm pretty sure i use cansasa also..But what do you use in your ties? Also comparing apples to apples is not always the best way to explain something. The WHO estimates that tobacco caused 5.4 million deaths in 2004 and 100 million deaths over the course of the 20th century. Similarly, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes tobacco use as "the single most important preventable risk to human health in developed countries and an important cause of premature death worldwide. WHO estimated that it causes 5.4 million deaths per year. which is wild why aren't we as a people not trying to stop this drug from killing our people. Oh yeah forgot more than half of the people opposing Marijuana are addicted to Tobacco. Marijuana as 483 known compounds in the plant only one potential harmful if taken in a high dose which Marijuana barely as if it is lucky around a 3.5 percent potency of the chemical compared to tobacco which as over 7,000 chemicals 70 harmful. Also smoking/eat/drinking Marijuana as never been to link to an overdose let alone a death due to using the drug.
  20. FlipSide
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    FlipSide - February 04, 2014 10:01 am
    Thank you for your honesty! I was getting tired of people hiding behind the guise of using it strictly for "medicinal" puposes. Now, having said that I for one will not vote for legalizing it. Furthermore, with the amount of homicides, suicides or any type of 'cide', what ingredients do you think were involved? So, by legalizing you are saying life will becoming amazingly more pleasant on the reservation. I'm sorry but you live in a fantasy world.
  21. Magaska
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    Magaska - February 04, 2014 7:30 am
    I dont know about you! But when we fill our pipes for ceremony we use "Cansasa" traditonal tabacco. We do not use whitemans tabacco..and yes tabacco has been around forever...but not in the form that it is today with all the additives that make it bad.

    Chemicals in Cigarettes:
    A carcinogen is defined as any substance that can cause or aggravate cancer. Approximately 70 of the chemicals in cigarettes are known to cause cancer.
    Benzene can be found in pesticides and gasoline. It is present in high levels in cigarette smoke and accounts for half of all human exposure to this hazardous chemical.
    Formaldehyde is a chemical used to preserve dead bodies, and is responsible for some of the nose, throat and eye irritation smokers experience when breathing in cigarette smoke.
    Pesticides are used on our lawns and gardens, and inhaled into our lungs via cigarette smoke.
    Tobacco-specific N-nitrosamines (TSNAs) are known to be some of the most potent carcinogens present in smokeless tobacco, snuff and tobacco smoke.
    Vinyl Chloride
    Vinyl Chloride is a man-made chemical that is used in making plastics and is in cigarette filters.

    Next time make sure you are compairing apples for apples...
  22. cowboy
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    cowboy - February 03, 2014 2:21 pm
    Hopefully the majority of the tribal membership will vote to legalize the use of this plant for medical purposes as well as for recreational puposes...
  23. Native Thoughts101
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    Native Thoughts101 - February 03, 2014 1:24 pm
    Yeah still believe it is a federal law, taking we are under federal jurisdiction we would not be able to make this happen unless we as a people decide to fall under state. Which I believe SD would be worse than the federal gov. But us as a people saying that by doing this is disrespectful to our ancestors is ridiculous. This has nothing to do with genocide or the taking of our land which is what they were fighting against. Not the legalization of a plant mind you that has been growing on this planet before us. But we would rather have our people use tobacco which is the leading cause of death in the world. A product at the beginning made by mother earth after the product line is nothing but a low grade form of meth. Yet we has a people said we used this product to pray with. Come on now...What's this comparing Marijuana to Alcohol there is no comparing the two. The comparison should be Tobacco vs. Marijuana, but we all know who wins that battle. Tobacco kills Marijuana heals plan and simple. But Idk don't think I would want our Tribal Council to be in charge of the Alcohol or Marijuana sales. Already bad enough they have controls of our financials.
  24. snowflake
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    snowflake - February 03, 2014 12:33 pm
    I don't think they can go against federal laws, "sovereign" or not.

    But look at it this way. They voted to legalize alcohol but that has not materialized. The tribal council hasn't done anything to make it happen.
  25. ALL 4 1
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    ALL 4 1 - February 03, 2014 9:57 am
    I believe that marijuana does work to treat different diagnosis's. While growing up my father had a drinking problem and wouldn't eat when he was hanging over, but when he did smoke he would get an appetite and eat. He would say "that's the only reason I smoke just to get an appetite" but I was against the smoking and drinking. I'm more against the alcohol because that's what killed my father. My mother also is recovering from a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) she had a mass removed from her brain and she takes medication for seizures and pain. However smoking pot decreases the possibility of having a seizures and the other complications that seizures cause. Dr Sanjay Gupta was against it for medicinal use, until he researched it on a girl who was 2 years old and had a twin who was normal but the other twin had health complications and seizures all the time. The girls family decided to use it for medical use on their daughter and it did wonders for the family. I'm drug free and support the idea of it. Would you rather have a raging drunk walking around your community or someone who is on medical marijuana? We will see what the people vote, it will be another higher vote just like the last one. More people voted on the issue than the regular election.
  26. rezident
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    rezident - February 03, 2014 9:21 am
    Wow, pine ridge already has MAJOR alcohol and drug issues. Let's just make it easier to obtain the biggest pre-cuser drug!

    How about instilling a work ethic into pine ridge instead of promoting the drugged life?
  27. FlipSide
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    FlipSide - February 03, 2014 8:59 am
    Wow! Sounds like a real party. We went from Alcohol to Pot in a nanosecond. Next, they'll be trying to legalize a Brothel on the reservation. Of course all the proceeds will go to towards economic development, education and sex ed.
  28. Brian Kelly
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    Brian Kelly - February 02, 2014 8:51 pm
    In the prohibitionist's world, anybody who consumes the slightest amount of marijuana responsibly in the privacy of their own homes are stoners and dopers that need to be incarcerated to protect society.

    In their world, any marijuana use equates to marijuana abuse, and it is their god given duty to worry about saving us all from the evils of marijuana use.

    Who are they to tell us we can't choose marijuana, the safer choice instead alcohol for relaxation, after a long, hard day, in the privacy of our own homes?

    People who use marijuana are smart, honest, hard working, educated, and successful people too, who "follow the law" also.(except for their marijuana consumption under it's current prohibition of course) .

    Not the stereotypical live at home losers prohibitionists make us out to be. We are doctors, lawyers, professors, movie stars, and politicians too.

    Several Presidents of The United States themselves and Justin Trudeau have confessed to their marijuana use , as have a long and extensive list of successful people throughout history at one point or other in their lives.

    Although, that doesn't mean a dam thing to people who will make comments like "dopers" and "stoners" about anybody who uses the slightest amount of Marijuana although it is way safer than alcohol.

    To these people any use equals abuse, and that is really ignorant and full of hypocrisy. While our society promotes, glorifies, and advertises alcohol consumption like it's an All American pastime.

    There is nothing worse about relaxing with a little marijuana after a long hard day, than having a glass a wine.

    So come off those high horses of yours. Who are you to dictate to the rest of society that we can't enjoy Marijuana, the safer choice over alcohol, in the privacy of our own homes?

    We've worked real hard our whole lives to provide for our loved ones. We don't appreciate prohibitionists trying to impose their will and morals upon us all.

    Has a marijuana user ever tried to force you to use it? Probably not. So nobody has the right to force us not to either.

    Don't try to impose your morality and "clean living" upon all of us with Draconian Marijuana Laws, and we won't think your such prohibitionist hypocrites.

    Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!
  29. 1stDownDash
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    1stDownDash - February 02, 2014 3:54 pm
    Hey Rowdy, The chronic problems you refer to, are no different at Pine Ridge than any other part of the US, especially where there are symptoms of poverty, I have yet to meet a person anywhere start a fight or assault an officer who was high on marijuana. I have seen plenty of instances of it with alcohol and other rec drugs like meth, PCP, LSD.
    Furthermore I hope you can produce empirical data to support your somewhat feeble attempt to rationalize your view on how marijuana use has created chronic problems at Pine Ridge or anywhere else.
    Marijuana is also used in the upper crust of US society, the only reason it is not viewed as "Chronic" is because the upper crust is significantly less likely to be convicted much less prosecuted for marijuana possession or use.
    Listen to the Toby Keith song," I'll never smoke weed with Willie again". This song is proof that marijuana is prevalent among the affluent many of whom espouse GOP values.
  30. Magaska
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    Magaska - February 02, 2014 3:22 pm
    I find this sad....So much for our "Wolakota" our ancestors are crying from the spirit world. If this passes with the alcohol law...Then our ancestors fought and died for nothing!....and the 7th generation has let them down... Maybe its time for the Lakota, Dakota & Nakota tribes and leaders to step in! These bad choices from Pine ridge Trbal leadership will effact "ALL" lakota nations. Between the Alcohol and Black Hills money now this? completely ignoring the treaties? If this gets out of control? you can bet the U.S. Government will take over and throw the treaties out!...Then we as a Nation loose everything..."United Urban Warrior Society" will stay commited to 100% Drug and Alcohol free.....Including POT!!..
  31. paperboy
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    paperboy - February 02, 2014 12:00 pm
    Uh-Oh! Hang on to your seats, folks. This should be interesting!
  32. indian-pendent
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    indian-pendent - February 02, 2014 8:09 am
    Did you inhale? "I thought that was the point", said the leader of the freeworld. Can't wait to hear what the neocons are going to say when Thune and Noem support this to get re elected.
  33. Rowdy
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    Rowdy - February 02, 2014 7:59 am
    From reading this article it would seem that pot is already legal in Pine Ridge. Everyone interviewed has been smoking it for years! Which may help explain some of the chronic problems on the reservation.
  34. comcents
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    comcents - February 02, 2014 7:50 am
    Legalize it and sell it. Pine Ridge will never have money problems again.
  35. Braves Fan
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    Braves Fan - February 02, 2014 7:09 am
    As a sovereign nation they can do that.
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