A South Dakota jury on Wednesday cleared a consultant of drug charges after he helped an American Indian tribe grow marijuana for a pot resort that the tribe once hoped would include a nightclub, an outdoor music venue and bring in millions of dollars.
It took the jury two hours to reject state charges against Monarch America CEO Eric Hagen of "conspiracy to possess, possession by aiding and abetting and attempted possession of more than 10 pounds of marijuana" Cannabis is illegal in South Dakota and the possession charge carried a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and $30,000 fine.
The case involves a well-publicized plan for the Flandreau Santee Sioux tribe to increase its revenues by creating one of the nation’s first legal marijuana resorts where sales and consumption for adults 21 and over were to be permitted. The facility was located on tribal lands, and approved in tribal regulations. The tribe pursued the resort in 2015 after the Justice Department cleared the way for tribes to grow and sell marijuana under the same conditions as states that legalized pot. Regardless of that advice, the state and FBI threatened to raid the facility, forcing the tribe to burn a $1Million cannabis crop.
Many believe that the case was never really about Eric Hagen, but rather that politically motivated State representatives, including Attorney General Marty Jackley who is running for governor in 2018, and Assistant Attorney General Bridget Mayer, brought the suit as a way to demonstrate State dominance over tribal authority.
This is an notable maneuver considering the current governor, Dennis Daugaard, established the first Office of Tribal Relations in his cabinet, appointing J.R. LaPlante (Cheyenne River Sioux) as its Secretary. Also, American Indians, largely Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota (Sioux) are predominant in several counties. South Dakota [as of 1999] the third highest proportion of Native Americans of any state, behind Alaska and New Mexico. Five of the state's counties lie entirely within Indian reservations.
[Photo source: (Emily Spartz Weerheim/The Argus Leader via AP, File]