This resort, dubbed “an adult playground,” is likely to be profitable.
Do you believe that it should be legal?
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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.
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 something.’”
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.”
“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.
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 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.
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.”
Do you believe the benefits will outweigh the risks?