Lakota Hemp Farmer Fights For The Right To Plant

Jul 30, 2015

A Lakota farmer is fighting for the right to plant a new crop of industrial hemp on Pine Ridge.
 
Alex White Plume began growing hemp in the late 1990’s after the Oglala Sioux Tribe legalized the crop for industrial use.   
 
But drug enforcement agents soon seized the White Plume crop.   He spent several years fighting in federal court and is under an injunction restricting his ability to plant again, despite new provisions in the Farm Bill that open the door for the crop.

The Badlands of the Pine Ridge Reservation just a few dozen miles north of where Oglala Lakota Alex White Plume hopes to plant a new crop of hemp.
Credit Charles Michael Ray

Round one of this fight, occurred over a decade ago, that’s when Alex White Plume lost his bid to grow industrial hemp on Pine Ridge.  But in round two White Plume has a new ally in his corner, that's attorney Tim Purdon who is filing a motion to lift the 11-year old federal injunction.
 
“You know I have a lot of respect for the lawyers at the Department of Justice, and as a former US Attorney I love the department.  But, they’re just wrong when it comes to the tribal sovereignty piece here,” says Purdon.
 

This injunction in light of these circumstances just seems crazy to me. -Tim Purdon, Attorney.

Purdon was most recently the US Attorney for North Dakota. He now working pro-bono on the side of White Plume.   Like the Oglala Sioux Tribe, North Dakota also legalized hemp, and years ago Purdon fought for the right to see it grown there.  Purdon says this case is in part about tribal sovereignty, but he adds it’s also about White Plume’s rights.  Purdon says  congress legalized industrial hemp in the last Farm Bill.  He says the injunction that restricts Alex White Plume from even applying for a permit is unfair.
 
“Here you have a resident of the Pine Ridge Reservation who wants to grow non-drug, non psychotropic industrial hemp.  And, perhaps start an industrial hemp industry in one of the poorest counties in America and this injunction in light of these circumstances just seems crazy to me.,” says Purdon.  
 
Officials with the US Attorney’s office in South Dakota say they have no comment.   The Obama Administration is holding back on enforcing marijuana laws in states or tribes that legalize hemp.  That’s a policy that could change with a new president after 2016.  But Tim Purdon, says the industrial hemp provision in the Farm Bill will stand regardless.