Why Native American Reservations Could be Next to Legalize Marijuana

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Head Man Delwin Fiddler (C) of the Lakota Sioux tribe and Head Lady Toni Tsatooke (L) of the Kiowa tribe lead dancers into a circle for the start of a Native American powwow in Urbana, MD. 08.04.2002
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Times are tough for Lakota Indians on the Pine Ridge Reservation in Shannon County, South Dakota. It's a place that, despite its beauty, has no jobs and little money coming into the community.

"Historically Shannon County has been one of the poorest counties in the country," Brandon Ecoffey, managing editor of Native Sun News and a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, told The Takeaway. "The tribe has been looking for alternative ways of raising revenue, of creating jobs, of just sparking growth on the reservation.”

The dire need for a boost to the economy is why the Oglala Lakota Tribal Council's economic committee started looking into legalizing marijuana on the reservation this year. Ecoffey says it was something that tribe members of all ages seemed interested in.

“In the past there's always been a generational divide on marijuana between younger Americans and the older Americans," he said. "On the reservation, that divide doesn't seem to exist. I think a community that's been hit so hard by mass incarceration, poverty, so many social afflictions—finding something that might work is appealing to everybody.”

An exploratory committee presents their findings on the pros and cons of the proposal to the Oglala Lakota Tribal Council next week. And the Oglala Lakota tribe is not alone—around the country, at least two dozen other tribes are considering similar proposals.

But what happens if marijuana laws are written to include variation not just from state to state, but also across the country's 326 reservations? It's a question Newsweek Ian MacDougall explores in the latest issue of the magazine.