Cherokee Nation has just decriminalized weed possession in a state where pot is still illegal
Cherokee One Feather reports that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians tribal council, which oversees Native American communities on the western edge of North Carolina, has voted to decriminalize the possession of an ounce of cannabis for those 21 years and older.
As a sovereign nation not subject to state law, the tribe’s decision to decriminalize up to an ounce of cannabis possession is the first area in North Carolina to lift penalties for marijuana possession.
Changes to the Eastern Band’s drug code were passed almost unanimously. 11 council members voted for decriminalization and only one against. The resolution will now be forwarded to the council chairman and the chief to be ratified.
A ban on certain drug paraphernalia, including cockroach clips, was also lifted, and the legal limit for possessing hashish also tripled from one-twentieth of an ounce. However, the sale and cultivation of cannabis remains illegal.
The 16,000-member Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is the largest nationally recognized tribe in the eastern half of the United States. It covers over 100 square miles in five North Carolina counties.
For some council members, decriminalization had a lot to do with using marijuana to break addiction to other drugs.
“If we had to start over today, alcohol would be the one that wasn’t legal,” said Councilor Albert Rose. “Cannabis is called a highway drug when it’s really alcohol. Cannabis would actually be the exit drug. “
Opioid addiction has destroyed this section of the Cherokee Nation, also known as the Qualla Frontier. In 2018, it was named one of ten “High Drug Trafficking Areas” in the US by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Hundreds of Cherokee children have been brought into tribal detention by prescription drug addicts parents. It is estimated that three quarters of them had to be housed in non-native homes, effectively separating a large portion of a generation from their community.
In 2015, the Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority invested in two new medical facilities to treat addiction. The tribe started a needle exchange program in 2017.
Then, in 2018, the tribe filed a lawsuit against opiate-producing drug companies, arguing that drug companies used misleading marketing tactics against their members, causing doctors to prescribe extremely addictive opiates.
Other council members noted that decriminalization brings the tribe one step closer to a broader version of cannabis access.
“Today’s decision by the Tribal Council to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis from people 21 and older is a first step to better meet the needs of our citizens who use cannabis as medicine,” said chief Richard G. Sneed, one of the Councilors who submitted the mandate. “Together with these citizens, I applaud the Council for its historic, compassionate and morally honest action.”
“It’s a good day,” said Principal Chief Sneed. “I am delighted that the tribal leadership has taken this important first step in moving us to a medical cannabis program.”
For others, this could mean a financial boon at a time when the tribe, usually dependent on their stalled casino business, is struggling financially.
“Now that we are in a time when new sources of income are needed, cannabis does that job,” said Jeremy Wilson, government liaison officer for the Eastern Band.
In October, North Dakota’s Oglala Sioux became the country’s first strain to legalize marijuana in a state where cannabis is still considered completely illegal.