PINE RIDGE, S.D. (KELO) — When people think of marijuana in South Dakota, one name looms large. Flandreau; or more specifically, Native Nations Cannabis in Flandreau, owned and operated by the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe.
But they aren’t the only game in the market in South Dakota, and they haven’t been for some time now.
While state licensed dispensaries have been slowly working toward opening dates that are still weeks away, and while Native Nations has been churning out medical cannabis products to those qualifying for a card, No Worries, a dispensary located along E Main Street in Pine Ridge, has quietly been selling marijuana since May 27, 2022.
This may not be especially notable considering Native Nations began sales in July, 2021, but there is one important difference.
No Worries is selling recreational marijuana. One needs only be over the age of 21 to buy.
“I don’t know why we did it so quiet,” said Ty Eagle Bull, manager of the dispensary, which is owned by his cousin Adonis Saltes. “I think maybe we were scared that we were going to get hit hard and sell out right away.”
There are of course other differences between Native Nations and No Worries.
Whereas Native Nations is owned and operated by the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, No Worries is privately owned.
Nearly a year and a half ago, the Oglala Sioux Tribe passed a referendum to legalize medical and recreational marijuana on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Since then, the tribe has been issuing licenses of its own to businesses for cultivating, processing and selling marijuana. No Worries was the first recreational dispensary to open.
“We’re South Dakota’s first recreational marijuana dispensary,” said Eagle Bull. “We’re located here in Pine Ridge, South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. We sell everything from pre-rolls to flower to concentrates to edibles — if you think a dispensary has it, we pretty much have it here.”
Eagle Bull was born and raised in Pine Ridge and for several years moved back and forth between living on and off the reservation. When his cousin offered him the chance to get in on the dispensary, he jumped at it.
“I look at it like it’s never gonna leave,” Eagle Bull said. “I had to jump on board and he offered me something good that I couldn’t turn down.”
Eagle Bull enjoys his work. “I love it. Before my job here, I’d wake up every day miserable,” he said with a chuckle. “Now I mean, I’m putting in 12-14 hour days, but I mean who can say they go to work every day to sell marijuana — I love it.”
Laughter was a common occurrence from Eagle Bull throughout the interview. “I love to brag this,” he said. “We’re South Dakota’s first recreational marijuana dispensary. I mean I know Flandreau has theirs, but they’re medical.”
The comparisons to Flandreau came throughout the interview from both parties, and with good reason.
“I hate to say it, but every day we’re comparing ourselves to Flandreau,” said Eagle Bull with a smile. “Flandreau helped us out big time, and when we need questions [answered], they’re probably the first people we call.”
Similar to Native Nations, No Worries is vertically integrated, meaning that they are licensed to grow, process and sell their product. Eagle Bull says they also have their product tested at a local facility to ensure quality control.
Business has gone well since No Worries opened in May; perhaps a little too well at times. “It has been a challenge,” said Eagle Bull when asked if keeping material in stock has been an issue. “On this side of the state, we’re the only dispensary open, so we’re getting people from off the reservation.”
There is a limit to the amount that you can purchase at No Worries, said Eagle Bull. “Here I’ll do up to a quarter [of an ounce],” he said, though he noted that amount is subject to change depending on supply.
Eagle Bull estimates that roughly half of his customers come from off the reservation, including from across the border in Nebraska.
While Eagle Bull says many of the off reservation customers stay in town and consume the marijuana on the reservation, he does acknowledge the potential risk taken by those who decide to take their purchase with them when they leave.
Recreational marijuana is not currently legal in South Dakota, so anyone caught leaving the reservation with it in their possession could face penalties, especially if they do not have a medical card from the state.
“[Off-reservation customers] ask ‘what’s the law around here,’ and I tell them ‘on reservation, it’s totally legal’,” said Eagle Bull. “A lot of the people from off-reservation have said that the Highway Patrol is a little bit steeper on the borders.”
Despite the legal risks, however, people are still coming to buy. “I’d say I see anywhere between 100-500 customers per day,” said Eagle Bull.
Eagle Bull is clearly very optimistic about the future of the cannabis industry on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and believes that it could be part of the solution to some of the problems facing the reservation that he didn’t seek to sugar-coat.
“The unemployment rate here on the reservation is really really high,” Eagle Bull said, adding that he sees a future where the marijuana industry helps to provide jobs for some who are looking. On the dispensary side alone, he says he’s looking to hire at least 10 more employees. “We’re actually creating jobs, because it’s really hard to find a job around here.”
Eagle Bull also addressed the issues of alcohol, opioid and meth addiction, all of which are major issues on the Pine Ridge Reservation, which encompasses all of Oglala Lakota County, and has ranked as one of the poorest counties in the nation.
Legal marijuana, Eagle Bull argues, can give those seeking treatment an option other than painkillers. He also talked about the impact that tax dollars generated from marijuana sales can have, citing things such as housing and other infrastructure that could be improved.
When asked about the possibility of marijuana tax dollars going to drug and alcohol treatment, Eagle Bull was enthusiastic. “That would be great,” he said, “if some of the tax money went toward something like treatment centers.”
Overall, Eagle Bull comes across as enthusiastic about the business, but also grateful.
“It means a lot to me. It means a lot to me. Seeing the people coming in and leaving with a smile on their face and they just can’t believe that it’s actually here,” said Eagle Bull.
Eagle Bull says he’s committed to making the experience for visitors a good one. “Keep coming, and thank you for the people that are coming,” he said. “I just want them to get the full experience of it — thank you for everyone supporting us and having our backs all the way so far.”