On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the seven-hour drive has not prevented a spike in youth marijuana use since Colorado legalized recreational weed. Native Americans across the country are worried as they watch “diversion,” legal marijuana in Colorado crossing into other states illegally, hit close to home, even though their families live in states where marijuana is not legal in any form.
“Our youth are abusing marijuana as never before. The stuff they’re smoking and eating comes to our kids still in its packaging from Denver.”
I’m on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, a seven-hour drive from Denver. The attorney general for the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Tate (pronounced “Taah’tay”) Means — daughter of the late American Indian Movement activist Russell Means — is describing how Colorado’s experiment in marijuana legalization threatens law and order on one of the country’s poorest Indian reservations.
Means, a 30ish Stanford University graduate, already confronts some of the toughest crime challenges anywhere. The reported sexual assault rate at Pine Ridge is 10 times the national average. But the new spike in marijuana abuse still comes as a shock. Means and her colleagues — we’re joined by three tribal court judges — marvel at how Colorado voters thought they could keep our state’s marijuana legalization experiment to ourselves.
I’ve heard this before from many other Native nations throughout the West. As chairman of a presidential commission that recommends public safety improvements on the 567 federally recognized Native nations across the United States, my status as a Colorado citizen is often what sparks the most interest. The Dakotas, New Mexico, Arizona — seems like wherever I travel — Native people ask me to talk about “diversion,” the leakage of Colorado’s state-legalized cannabis products on their teenagers and, yes, children.
Colorado-driven marijuana diversion to other states seems to be everywhere these days. Over lunch recently in Cheyenne, Wyoming’s governor, Matt Mead, wonders what Colorado is going to do about marijuana coming into his state’s public secondary schools. It isn’t whether diversion is happening, he says: Colorado’s state-sanctioned packaging of marijuana candy and other edibles speaks for itself.
The increasingly urgent question now is whether Coloradans intend to take any responsibility for this tragic state of affairs and, if so, how.
Troy A. Eid, a former U.S. attorney for Colorado, chairs the National Indian Law and Order Commission.