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PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg on Friday reversed his position on whether law enforcement should accept medical marijuana cards issued by the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe (FSST) to non-tribal members. Ravnsborg's announcement doubles down on South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem stance that state non-tribal residents cannot legally buy medical cannabis with a tribal card, even if it required a physician’s sign off.

Earlier this week, the Attorney General’s office issued a statement that law enforcement would have to accept medical marijuana cards issued by the FSST to non-tribal members.

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Native News Online reported that the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe opened Native Nations Dispensary, the first medical marijuana dispensary in South Dakota on July 1, 2021, the first day medical marijuana became legal in the state. Voters in South Dakota approved Measure 26 (IM 26), the Medical Marijuana Initiative, on November 3, 2020. The South Dakota Department of Health doesn’t plan to begin issuing medical marijuana cards until November.

“From the time IM 26 was passed by South Dakota voters, the Noem administration, including the Department of Public Safety, and the Office of the Attorney General have done everything possible to delay and stop its implementation,” said South Dakota State Senator Troy Heinert, who is a tribal citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, to Native News Online. “It is no surprise to me that the Office of the Attorney General continues its unwillingness to recognize tribal sovereignty.”

The change of whether or not state law enforcement should honor medical marijuana cards issued by FSST has brought confusion to many, but that hasn’t deterred the only medical marijuana dispensary in the state. 

“The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe has also seen the reviewed the statements from the South Dakota Attorney General, and appreciates his stance on tribal self-determination, and acknowledgment of the legitimacy of tribal medical cards,” said Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe Attorney General Seth Pearman in an email to Native News Online. “All medical cannabis cards issued by the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe originate with a recommendation from a physician.”

Prior to opening the dispensary, Gov. Noem issued a statement on Wednesday, June 30 that said state troopers would not acknowledge tribal-issued marijuana cards for non-tribal members. Initially, the cards would only be honored by the state for tribal members. The confusion over the validity of cards is because the government issuing medical marijuana cards is the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe. 

According to the State, the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe’s medical marijuana program does not provide protections from arrest for non-tribal members. “A tribal government cannot dictate to a separate sovereign – the State of South Dakota – how the state’s laws apply to its own residents who are not enrolled members of a tribe when they are off reservation land and therefore wholly within the jurisdiction of the State of South Dakota,” said the Office of Attorney General in a statement

“The Tribe’s card itself may not be honored by the State, but the underlying physician recommendation is sufficient as a ‘temporary registry identification card’ in accordance with South Dakota law (SDCL § 34-20G-40),” said Pearman. The FFST’s medical marijuana program is independent of the state of South Dakota.

According to FSST Attorney General Pearman, the Tribe has more than 700 registered patients with medical recommendations from multiple locations. A physician can sign a patient’s application, or an applicant can bring in their medical marijuana card from another jurisdiction, and the Tribe will honor those cards. 

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About The Author
Author: Darren Thompson
Darren Thompson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe) is a freelance journalist and based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, where he also contributes to Unicorn Riot, an alternative media publication. Thompson has reported on political unrest, tribal sovereignty, and Indigenous issues for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Indian Country Today, Native News Online, Powwows.com and Unicorn Riot. He has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Voice of America on various Indigenous issues in international conversation. He has a bachelor’s degree in Criminology & Law Studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.