The Santee Sioux is opening the nation's first cannabis resort on its reservation in South Dakota. 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 cannabis 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 cannabis cigarettes are expected to go on sale Dec. 31 at a New Year's Eve party.
The legalisation of cannabis 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 cannabis under the same conditions as some states.
Many tribes are hesitant to jump into the pot business. 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 something.'"
A cannabis 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 cannabis 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 (2,000 hectares) of gently rolling land along the Big Sioux River.
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 cannabis profits can fund more housing, an addiction treatment center and an overhaul of the clinic.
The prosperity that cannabis 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 cannabis cultivation possible on tribal lands.
- The Associated Press