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South Dakota Reservation Bans Alcohol, Allows Cannabis

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota allows legal marijuana, but they ban alcohol within their reservation boundaries. 

Oglala Sioux Tribe in Iowa overwhelmingly voted for legalization of recreational and medicinal cannabis. The site has banned alcohol for the last 100 years, and they aren’t planning to change that anytime soon. The legalization of cannabis in 2020 was delayed by the pandemic. They now have a flourishing industry. But, after legalizing cannabis, the government had the opportunity to allow alcohol to be legal on reservation. They chose not. 

People who reside on South Dakota’s reservation say they view cannabis as an alternative to alcohol, and that it can be used for management of mental and other chronic diseases. These people see alcohol as something that has a negative impact on their safety, health, and lives expectancy. 

“Cannabis is a natural plant that comes from the Earth—and our people lived off the land, and they got their medicine from the land,” Ann Marie Beane tells Press HeraldNo Worries, a local cannabis dispensary. “Our Indigenous people, they suffer a lot from diabetes and cancer and various other illnesses, but the cannabis really helps them.”

The store’s customers also felt that alcohol, meth and opioids were more dangerous than marijuana, while cannabis was better for them. 

Pine Ridge Reservation is 2,000,000 acres in size and includes several towns. It was founded in 1889. There are also ranches, prairies and badland areas. The Reservation is home to approximately 20,000 residents. However, some community members believe that the U.S. Census Bureau may have missed out on certain people and the actual number of inhabitants could be closer to 40,000. 

The history of South Dakota’s reservation has seen alcohol be illegal for almost all its existence. However, bootlegging and alcohol abuse are still a problem on the reservation. 

“It’s killing our youth—It’s killing our future generation,” Beane says about the still-prevalent alcohol abuse problem. 

In 2012, the Oglala Sioux Tribe sued to claim that 25% of the children who were born on the reservation suffered from behavioral or health problems due to their mothers’ alcohol exposure. They also sued Nebraska-based beer retailers that took advantage of people who had alcohol problems and lived near the reservation. 

Experts say that Indigenous people have lower life expectancies and more health problems than others. This is due to their poverty and the damage done by the federal government. There is often poor access to health care and food on reservations. These reservations are typically served by the Indian Health Service. This group is often not well-funded and is not always capable of providing the highest quality care. 

Surveyed by No Worries By the Customers Press Herald Only a small percentage of the respondents stated that cannabis was used for recreational purposes. Many of these people use cannabis for pain and anxiety, along with other medical conditions. Reporters seen a patient using an ostomy bag that had partially lost her intent, along with patients with drug addictions and cancer. 

“I’d rather smoke than do other drugs because I almost gave up on my kids,” says Chantilly Little, a recovering addict. 

“Unfortunately, the health care services provided by the Indian Health Service have failed so many in countless ways,” says Stephanie Bolman, a breast cancer patient who used to work in health care. Additionally, she serves as a member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe’s city council. “It has left many to fend for themselves and endure so much pain and suffering that medical marijuana has proven to be lifesaving.”

Although many Indigenous South Dakotans in South Dakota are struggling to access healthcare and equitable services, the legalization of cannabis is an important first step.