It took a Moody County jury just two hours on Wednesday to acquit a former consultant of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe on marijuana charges.

The two hours included lunch.

The quick decision left some in the state’s legal community perplexed, especially those who felt the state had a slam-dunk case against Eric Hagen, the Monarch America president and veteran of the medical and recreational marijuana industry hired by the tribe after the tribal council voted to legalize marijuana.

The obvious winner is Hagen. After being indicted in August along with Jonathan Hunt, Monarch’s former vice president, Hagen had the chance to take a plea deal. Hunt took a deal, pleading guilty to one count and receiving a year of unsupervised probation and, upon its completion, the chance to have his record wiped clean. Hunt testified that he took the deal, even though he felt he was not guilty.

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Eric Hagen gives a post trial press conference after being found not guilty on all 3 counts in Flandreau marijuana case.
Jonathan Ellis / Argus Leader

Hagen, however, gambled, putting himself in legal jeopardy and perhaps facing nearly 30 years in prison, although he likely would have received significantly less time had he been convicted.

“It is a relief,” he said after the verdict. “I have a 7-month-old daughter.”

Of course, besides Hagen, there are other winners. And losers.

Loser: Marty Jackley

The attorney general was present in Moody County last August when he made the announcement that Hagen and Hunt would be charged. But he was not at Hagen’s trial, focusing instead on upcoming murder cases.

This was no run-of-the-mill marijuana case: It dealt with issues of tribal sovereignty and, when the tribe announced its plans, became one of the most visible issues in the state. No prosecutor likes to lose high-profile cases. But in this case, some have questioned the state’s decision to bring charges against Hagen and Hunt nine months after the tribe burned its crop. Jackley, who is running for governor, has long maintained that politics play no role in his prosecuting decisions, but there are many out there who think this case reeks of politics.

Winner: Marty Jackley

Wait, winner and loser? Yes.

OK, so maybe he doesn’t make prosecutorial decisions based on politics. But that doesn’t mean those decisions don’t have political consequences.

Jackley and Gov. Dennis Daugaard were firmly against the tribe’s plans, which included opening a marijuana smoke lounge to non-Indians. While attitudes about the drug are relaxing across the nation, even among some Republicans, there are still fierce opponents of marijuana who buy into the worst propaganda-fueled myths about the drug. And there are a significant number of those people in the state’s Republican Party who vote in primaries. They’ll remember that Jackley fought to keep legal marijuana out of the state.

Winner: Bean and Vine

The coffee shop/café in Flandreau puts out a mean Philly cheesesteak sandwich, as well as other sandwiches and pizzas. Hagen’s trial brought people to town who ended up eating there. On Wednesday, as the jury deliberated, there was an odd sight of Hagen and his defense team eating lunch in one corner while the state’s team was eating lunch in another corner. Awkward.

Winner: The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe

Following Hagen’s acquittal, Tribal Chairman Tony Reider said that he believed there was more to the prosecution than on its face. Behind the scenes, he said, it was an effort by the state to assert control over the tribe. It was crazy and insulting to think the state could prosecute a tribal consultant who was operating on tribal land in compliance with tribal laws. And this time, at least, the tribe won.

Winner: Tomatoes

When asked about the sophisticated grow room that Hagen and Hunt set up for the tribe, Reider said it remains exactly as they had left it. Lights, watering system, fans, all there, ready to crank out plants. But Reider indicated the tribe will not be moving forward with marijuana. Not until there is further guidance from the federal government. In the meantime, Reider said the tribe will use the equipment to begin producing fresh vegetables. So be watching for Flandreau’s organic tomatoes at a store near you.

Loser: Pot smokers

Even though Hagen was acquitted, the tribe is understandably not keen on restarting the grow room and smoke lounge concept. And that means pot smokers will have to continue getting marijuana on the considerable black market. Just like they always have.

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