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State lawmakers tour pot farm on Flandreau reservation

FLANDREAU (AP) — Five state lawmakers toured the indoor pot farm on Friday that will supply the main attraction of the nation's first marijuana resort, which is being built on the land of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe in South Dakota.

The bipartisan group visited the marijuana-growing facility and the under-construction recreational smoking lounge at the tribe's invitation. The visit included a discussion in which tribal leaders and executives of the marijuana consulting firm they're partners with answered several questions from lawmakers primarily dealing with the steps the tribe is taking to ensure that pot does not make its way into the rest of the state, where its consumption and possession remains illegal.

"When you hear about the facility, you just think of what you've seen on TV, but that's why I came on today's tour to see it firsthand," Republican state Rep. Mathew Wollmann said after the tour. "I was very impressed with the facility that they have here. It kind of blew my mind exactly how they plan to operate, how they plan to keep it as secluded as possible and just give individuals an opportunity to partake in an activity, but not have everyone around them be in danger."

Santee Sioux leaders plan to grow their own pot and sell it in a smoking lounge that includes a nightclub, bar and food service, and eventually, an outdoor music venue. The resort will also include private rooms where people whose doctors have recommended the use of marijuana will be able to consume pot comfortably without having to take part in the entertainment part of the lounge.

Tribal leaders, including president Anthony Reider, stressed the reservation's ordinance dictating that the marijuana purchased at the tribe's facility is to be smoked exclusively in the resort and that under no circumstance can consumers take it home.

Every plant in Flandreau's growing facility has a barcode. After being harvested and processed, marijuana will be sold in sealed 1-gram packages for $12.50 to $15. Customers will be allowed to buy only 1 gram at a time, and will have to return the empty, barcoded package of their purchase in order to be able to buy another gram. The first grams will go on sale New Year's Eve.

About a dozen cameras are already recording people's moves in and around the 10,000-square-foot indoor growing facility. A perceivable pot smell welcomed lawmakers to the farm, where they saw plants that have been growing for about three weeks.

"The tour was very helpful," said Republican state Rep. Elizabeth May. "The myth that it's going to be leaving the reservation and come into the state, that's a myth; that's not going to happen. (With) the tracking system they have, they'll know everything that they grow, sell and who's getting it. I think the fear factor will lessen once it opens."

The legalization of marijuana on the reservation came in June, months after the Justice Department outlined a new policy allowing Indian tribes, which are considered sovereign nations, to grow and sell marijuana on tribal lands under the same conditions laid out for states that have legalized the drug.

Tribal leaders invited all 105 members of the South Dakota Legislature to the tour. The small turnout puzzled some attendees.

"I would have to say, I'm a little surprised there were only five of us. I would've expected more to come," said Democratic state Rep. Paula Hawks. "On the flipside of that, everybody has things going on. We are a working legislature."

Reider said tribal leaders would welcome other lawmakers later if they're interested in touring the farm and resort.