Pine Ridge Reservation to vote on marijuana legalization, alcohol in casinos

PINE RIDGE, S.D. – Enrolled members on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation will be able to vote on the legalization of alcohol in reservation casinos and use of both recreational and medicinal marijuana after council members voted in favor of a referendum earlier this month.

On January 8, Tribal Council voted 10-5 to send the three ballot questions to the public on March 10.

If passed, the serving and consumption of alcohol would be legal within the Prairie Winds and East Winds Casinos. Recreational and medicinal marijuana would also be legalized within the bounds of the reservation.

According to Oglala Sioux Tribal Councilwoman Nakina Mills of the Pine Ridge District, the issue first came to council in November but was put off after members requested more clarification on the process.

Mills says the new referendum is binding and council members are obligated to approve the items passed. “The vote of a majority of the qualifying voters voting in such a referendum shall be conclusive and binding on the Tribal Council,” reads referendum documents.

Pine Ridge saw its last referendum election in 2013. A majority of voters approved an end to the alcohol ban on the reservation but even after the vote, the tribal lands are still dry.

The Attorney General for the Oglala Sioux Tribe Scott James says the difference between the two referendums is the 2013 referendum was an advisory vote. An advisory vote acts as a sample of the public to determine the public’s interest. In case of the 2013 alcohol ban vote, the council declined to act.

The deadline for district service centers and enrollment offices to finalize voter lists is February 6.

Mills says the challenge moving forward is making sure the public is informed on the issues and ensuring proper ordinances are in place before moving forward.

“I feel we should have a plan and laws so we know the tribe is ready for these kinds of things,” said Mills.

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