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Santee Sioux Halt South Dakota Pot Lounge Plans

FLANDREAU, S.D. (CN) - The Santee Sioux Tribe's plans to open a marijuana-smoking lounge and growing facility by the end of the year have been put on hold indefinitely, the tribe said this past weekend.

The tribal council decided to suspend their marijuana operation after consulting with the federal government, according to a statement released by tribal attorney Seth Pearman. He added that this did not signal the end of the tribe's plans to move forward with marijuana production in the future.

"This suspension is pivotal to the continued success of the marijuana venture, and tribal leadership is confident that after seeking clarification from the United States Department of Justice, it will be better suited to succeed," Pearman said.

"The tribe will continue to consult with the federal and state governments, and hopes to be granted parity with states that have legalized marijuana. The tribe intends to successfully participate in the marijuana industry, and tribal leadership is undaunted by this brief sidestep."

The Indian Country Today Media Network cites rumors that the feds' preparing a raid on the facility prompted the tribal council to vote for suspension at their Saturday morning meeting. They burned their entire marijuana crop that night.

Despite the tribe's insistence that this is not the end of their marijuana enterprise, local politicians who opposed the operation are breathing a sigh of relief.

"I believe the Santee Sioux Tribe's decision to delay its marijuana grow in South Dakota is in the best interest of tribal and nontribal members," Attorney General Marty Jackley told Courthouse News. "As South Dakota's attorney general I am committed to continuing discussions with tribal leaders regarding public safety, which include impaired driving and other jurisdictional challenges created by federal law."

"The governor has said that marijuana violates federal and state law and should not be allowed in South Dakota," Gov. Dennis Daugaard's chief of staff Tony Venhuizen, added. "He is pleased that the Flandreau Tribe has suspended its plans."

Venhuizen said he did not know whether the governor's and attorney general's vocal disapproval played a role in the tribe's decision to put their marijuana operation on hold.

In 2014, the United States Department of Justice released a memo to the nation's tribes implying the federal government would not prosecute the cultivation of marijuana on tribal land as long as it did not venture into prohibited areas like selling pot to minors or using it as a front for trafficking other drugs.

However, tribes remained cautious about legalizing marijuana on their own land, and the Santee Sioux was one of the first tribes to do so. Still, many native and non-native citizens in the Flandreau area opposed the facility, according to state Rep. Leslie Heinemann, who told Courthouse News he received calls from his constituents asking if he could do anything to "stop" the tribe from moving forward.

Not everyone is pleased with the suspension. Melissa Mentele, a nurse who is leading the charge for the legalization of medical marijuana in South Dakota, told the Indian Country Today Media Network that "the suspension of the grow facility is heartbreaking for the patients and families in South Dakota."

"Many were hopeful that the Flandreau Sioux Santee Tribe facility would provide access to life-saving medicine as soon as January for the hundreds of suffering South Dakota residents," Mentele said.

The smoking lounge plans included a discreet, separate area for those consuming marijuana medicinally, tribal president Anthony Reider told Courthouse News during a tour of the facility in October.

Tribal representatives did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

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