A South Dakota Native American tribe has been flooded with requests hours after it announced plans to open the United States’ first marijuana resort this New Years Eve, the tribe said Wednesday.
“About 100 people have already called to say they’re coming,” Seth Pearman, tribal attorney for the Santee Sioux in Flandreau, South Dakota, told Al Jazeera. “We’re very excited about this process.”
Marijuana is not legal in South Dakota, but the U.S. Department of Justice said last year that Indian reservations would not face prosecution or federal interference for legally operating — under rules similar to those in states that have legalized recreational use of the drug — its distribution and cultivation facilities.
The Santee Sioux resort, converted from a 10,000 square-foot bowling alley on the reservation, will grow its own marijuana and will have an “upscale bar or club atmosphere” and live music, Pearman said. A nearby casino will provide rooms for overnight guests, he added.
The resort will be open to the public, will sell both marijuana and alcohol to adults over 21 years old and will allow them to consume it openly, Pearman said. A handful of private clubs have been allowed to operate in Colorado, where recreational marijuana use was legalized in 2012, but smoking in public is not legal.
Santee Sioux tribal officials have been researching the idea and touring other marijuana-growing facilities around the country. The tribe has also partnered with Colorado-based marijuana consulting firm Monarch America to learn about cultivating the plant.
The tribe will grow its own marijuana in a 10,000 square-foot facility on the reservation with the help of industry experts. The pot will be “high quality, free from contaminants, and organic,” according to Pearman.
“We’ll do about 60 strains of marijuana, which is quite the range of choices for smokers,” Pearman said.
Sales will be tightly regulated, and any pot purchased must be consumed on site, Pearman said.
Some reservation residents have publicly complained about the project, he said, comparing the situation to the concerns expressed when casinos became popular businesses on reservations in the early 1990s.
The Santee Sioux held several general council meetings inviting all tribal members while it was debating whether to go ahead with the resort. Some people opposed the plan but a tribal survey showed that most supported it, Pearman said.
The tribe hopes the resort will boost the reservation’s economy, which is still recovering from the 2008 economic recession.
“It’s a great opportunity, with a small investment, to make a lot of money for tribes who have been struggling for hundreds of years to get economic development going,” Pearman said.