Wouldn’t it be fantastic if cannabis users finally had their own place to frolic, relax, and enjoy their libation of choice in peace without any fear of being hassled by local or federal law enforcement officials? Although there have been some attempts to do just this, they have all fallen short of their goals to open these Gardens of Eden for marijuana smokers. That is, until the Santee Sioux tribe from South Dakota got the same idea.
Located in Flandreau, South Dakota, the Santee Sioux tribe is a small, traditional Native American community that currently runs its own successful casino, a 120-room hotel and a 240-head buffalo ranch, on their 5,000 acre reservation. The tribe itself is fairly small, with only 400 members total to run these attractions.
According to reports, the tribe had started to see drops in business due to reeling ramifications still lasting from the Great Recession and competition from similar businesses in the area. But, noticing an abandoned bowling alley sitting on their land, tribal President Anthony Reider decided to hop onto the cannabis business bandwagon and create the country’s very first legal marijuana resort.
“We want it to be an adult playground,” Reider explains. “There’s nowhere else in America that has something like this.”
The Justice Department passed a new policy that essentially allows Native American tribes to grow and sell marijuana on their reservations. Thanks to this policy, the tribes are able to do so (by their own choosing, of course) without any interference from any federal law enforcement officers. While there are eight different guidelines put in place by the federal government regarding the policy, so long as the tribes follow them they are able to grow and sell the plant without any fear of legal ramifications.
“The tribes have the sovereign right to set the code on their reservations,” said Timothy Purdon, the U.S. attorney for North Dakota and chairman of the Attorney General’s subcommittee on Native American Issues.
The planned resort will be located on the Santee Sioux’s reservation, taking the place of an abandoned bowling alley. As of right now, the plans for the new resort include a smoking lounge for the guests, a nightclub, an arcade, a restaurant and bar and an outside live music venue.
“We’re trying to get a pizza kitchen in,” tribal attorney Seth Pearson explains. “It won’t be like a ‘club’ club, but it will be a comfortable place where people can come in and just consume.”
Because cannabis is illegal in South Dakota (punishable for up to a year in jail for possessing 2 ounces), but legal on the Santee Sioux’s reservation, everything must be done to prepare for the sales on the tribes land. This includes a brand new indoor marijuana growing facility that looks like a normal industrial warehouse to the uninformed eye. The facility will grow up to 30 different strains that will be sold right at the reservations new resort, including Gorilla Glue and Big Blue Cheese.
The Santee Sioux have had little experience growing cannabis, so the tribe has hired a consulting firm from Denver, CO called Monarch America to aid them in getting the perfect growing conditions for their new cash crop. The firm plans to assist the tribe members in getting the correct temperature, pH levels and water regimens for the plants so that they grow correctly.
Jonathan Hunt, the president and chief grower of Monarch American says that the tribe’s new business endeavor “is not a fly-by-night operation.” He goes on to explain that the leaders of the tribe “want to show the state how clean, how efficient, how proficient, safe and secure this is as an operation. We are not looking to do anything shady.”
In order to accomplish this, the tribe has set up a system to regulate how cannabis is sold to its patrons. The cannabis can only be bought or sold on the resort’s premises and only in increments of a gram at a time. Each gram comes in a sealed package with a barcode printed on the outside. Each package will cost anywhere between $12.50 to $15 a piece and another gram can only be purchased if the old package with the barcode on it is returned to the counter where it was purchased.
For the small, somewhat struggling tribe, this resort could mean a huge income increase. Tribe leaders expect the new resort to bring in about $2 million every month, which will be used to support the tribe members with monthly income, a senior community center, afterschool programs for the youth, and even a drug rehabilitation center.
“The vast majority of tribes have little to no economic opportunity,” said Blake Trueblood, business development director at the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. Trueblood explains that for these struggling tribes, “this is something that you might look at and say, ‘We’ve got to do something.'”
While all of these new plans for development may seem like a godsend for the struggling tribe, there are still concerns looming in the future about the federal status of marijuana and how it may be affected by the new presidential election.
“Oh, it’s certainly a concern to the tribe,” Pearson says. “But it’s getting to where it may be challenging to do that now. There’s 24 states that have legalized marijuana in one form or another and including … Washington, D.C. So I think with the continued expansion and legalization throughout the United States that it will be pretty challenging for the new administration to come in and say, ‘This is it. Let’s shut it all down.’”
The Santee Sioux have announced that they plan to open the resort officially on December 31 for their annual New Year’s Eve festivities.
“We hope to have the best New Year’s Eve party in the state,” Pearson jokingly stated.
Would you visit the country’s first cannabis resort? Tell us in the comments.