Pubdate: Tue, 29 Sep 2015
Source: Statesman Journal (Salem, OR)
Copyright: 2015 Associated Press
Author: Regina Garcia Cano


FLANDREAU, S.D. (AP) - The Santee Sioux tribe has already proven its 
business acumen, running a successful casino, a 120-room hotel and a 
240-head buffalo ranch on the plains of South Dakota.

But those enterprises have not been immune to competition and the 
lingering effects of the Great Recession, so the small tribe of 400 
is undertaking a new venture - opening the nation's first marijuana 
resort on its reservation. The experiment could offer a new 
money-making model for tribes nationwide seeking economic 
opportunities beyond casinos.

Santee Sioux leaders plan to grow their own pot and sell it in a 
smoking lounge that includes a nightclub, arcade games, bar and food 
service, and eventually, slot machines and an outdoor music venue.

"We want it to be an adult playground," tribal President Anthony 
Reider said. "There's nowhere else in American that has something like this."

The project, according to the tribe, could generate up to $2 million 
a month in profit, and work is already underway on the growing 
facility. The first joints are expected to go on sale Dec. 31 at a 
New Year's Eve party.

The legalization of marijuana on the Santee Sioux land came in June, 
months after the Justice Department outlined a new policy that allows 
Indian tribes to grow and sell marijuana under the same conditions as 
some states.

Many tribes are hesitant to jump into the pot business. And not 
everyone in Flandreau, about 45 miles north of Sioux Falls, believes 
in the project. But the profit potential has attracted the interest 
of many other tribes, just as the debut of slot machines and table 
games almost 27 years ago.

"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. For those tribes, 
"this is something that you might look at and say, 'We've got to do 

Flandreau's indoor marijuana farm is set against a backdrop of 
soybean fields. If not for a security booth outside, the building 
could pass as an industrial warehouse.

Inside, men are working to grow more than 30 different strains of the 
finicky plant, including those with names like "Gorilla Glue," "Shot 
Glass" and "Big Blue Cheese."

Pot is prone to mildew and mold, picky about temperature and pH level 
and intolerant to tap water. So the Santee Sioux have hired 
Denver-based consulting firm Monarch America to teach them the basics.

Tribal leaders from across the country and South Dakota legislators 
will tour the Flandreau facility in mid-October.

"This is not a fly-by-night operation," said Jonathan Hunt, Monarch's 
vice president and chief grower. Tribal leaders "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."

Elsewhere, crews have begun transforming a bowling alley into the resort.

A marijuana resort open to the public has never been tried in the 
U.S. Even in states such as Colorado and Washington, where pot is 
fully legal, consumption in public places is generally forbidden, 
although pro-pot activists are seeking to loosen those restrictions. 
Colorado tolerates a handful of private marijuana clubs.

Unlike the vast reservations in western South Dakota, where poverty 
is widespread, the little-known Flandreau Santee Sioux Reservation is 
on 5,000 acres of gently rolling land along the Big Sioux River. 
Trailer homes are scarce and houses have well-trimmed lawns.

The Santee Sioux hope to use pot in the same way that many tribes 
rely on casinos - to make money for community services and to provide 
a monthly income to tribal members. The existing enterprises support 
family homes, a senior living community, a clinic and a community 
center offering afterschool programs.

Reider hopes marijuana profits can fund more housing, an addiction 
treatment center and an overhaul of the clinic. Some members want a 
24/7 day care center for casino workers.

The prosperity that marijuana could bring to Indian Country comes 
with huge caveats. The drug remains illegal under federal law, and 
only Congress can change its status. The administration that moves 
into the White House in 2017 could overturn the Justice Department's 
decision that made marijuana cultivation possible on tribal lands.

Meanwhile, tribes must follow strict security measures or risk the 
entire operation.

The marijuana cannot leave the reservation, and every plant in 
Flandreau's growing facility will have a bar code. After being 
harvested and processed, it will be sold in sealed 1-gram packages 
for $12.50 to $15 - about the same price as the illegal market in 
Sioux Falls, according to law enforcement. Consumers will be allowed 
to buy only 1 gram - enough for two to four joints - at a time.

Want another gram? The bar-coded package of the first gram must be 
returned at the counter.

Since the Santee Sioux announced their plans, the Passamaquoddy Tribe 
in Maine signed a letter of intent with Monarch to build a 
cultivation facility for industrial hemp. The Suquamish Tribe and 
Washington state officials signed a 10-year agreement that will 
govern the production, processing and sale of pot on the tribe's land.

In the long run, Reider is certain that the benefits will outweigh 
the risks of tribal marijuana enterprises.

The tribe, he said, must "look at these opportunities because in 
order to preserve the past we do have to advance in the present."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom