Meetings & Information


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Legalizing marijuana on reservations not viable solution

OUR OPINION: Legalizing marijuana on reservations not viable solution

Why? Because some tribal members consider alcoholism a plague.

At Pine Ridge, booze was finding its way onto that reservation and troubles followed. Oddly, a year after the ban was dropped, the tribe was among the first in the nation to consider legalizing marijuana.

It's difficult for us to fathom going from an alcohol ban to legalized use of pot, for medical reasons and otherwise, within a span of a year or two.

What drives such radical thinking? More on that in a bit.

Pine Ridge still hasn't legalized marijuana, but another South Dakota reservation -- relatively near North Dakota's southern border -- has. Earlier this week, the Flandreau Santee Sioux Reservation decided to allow the sale and recreational use of marijuana on tribal land.

The Santee tribe has a reputation for trailblazing. It was where South Dakota's first tribal casino was built, and that casino has done a bang-up business since it opened more than 25 years ago. Now, tribal casinos are the norm in South Dakota, although not all are models of business proficiency.

Sure, casinos have created a revenue source for many American Indian tribes, but they also have, at times, bred corruption and other issues in places that can little afford more strife and turmoil. A 2012 University of Maryland study showed there is a 10 percent increase in substance abuse, suicide, violent crime, theft and bankruptcy when a new casino opens in town.

What does all of this have to do with reservations putting up an "open for business" sign around verdant fields of marijuana?

Plenty, since some tribes greatly struggled with vices, and especially corruption, booze and gambling. So consider what could happen by adding marijuana to the mix of a reservation's potential evils.

A 2014 study by Lancet Psychiatry, a British journal of health research, showed teens who smoke marijuana daily are more than 60 percent less likely to complete high school than those who never use. They're also 60 percent less likely to graduate from college and seven times more likely to attempt suicide.

What are some of the most notable social troubles that exist on reservations? Poor educational results and suicide.

We know. We're simply assuming more societal issues will come the way of reservations if marijuana sales and use are approved. And it's also true the aforementioned research only studied teens, who would not legally have access to the otherwise legalized pot.

But still we ask: Why would reservations consider legalizing the harvesting and sale of marijuana, considering the troubles that already exist on many reservations?

Money, of course. And the new windfall wouldn't make it right for these sovereign nations who can, evidently, pursue this path.

Nor do we foresee it being the financial salvation of reservations, just as casinos haven't been the cure for all reservations' financial woes.

We don't see legalized marijuana as a way to improve reservation graduation rates or reduce the number of suicides on reservations. We don't foresee it reducing the number of gangs, nor do we foresee it alleviating reservation substance-abuse issues.

However, we do foresee it creating a burden on law-enforcement agencies, both on the reservation and off.
Reservations should strongly consider what, exactly, they're getting into before legalizing marijuana growth and use.

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