Eastern Cherokee Tribal Council votes to approve and legalize medical marijuana
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians tribal council on Thursday approved an ordinance legalizing medical marijuana in tribal areas. The vote is for the tribe’s land known as the Qualla Boundary, which covers 100 square miles across five counties in western North Carolina.
Cannabis is still illegal in North Carolina, although possession of less than an ounce can only be punished with a fine. The council’s move will make the tribe’s sovereign land the only place within state lines where marijuana can be legally owned.
Prior to the council’s vote, chief Richard Sneed said the new regulation is the first of several steps to fully legalize medical marijuana.
“There is so much science now that supports cannabis as medicine,” Sneed told the tribal council. “This is really a quality of life issue for people with debilitating diseases, chronic pain, chronic back pain, and cancer.”
“This is really just the first step, or a kind of cornerstone, on the way to medicine. We have to do this first, ”he added.
The council voted to remove a provision from the regulation that would have allowed tribal members to give away, but not sell, small amounts of cannabis. Albert Rose, a member of the council who voted for the regulation, said cannabis is already present on tribal land.
“Go out and see some of the elders, it’s their medicine,” said Rose.
Cherokee Stamm is planning more reforms
Jeremy Wilson, the tribal government liaison officer, said, “People want cannabis, the world is changing, society is changing.”
With medical cannabis now legal in tribal areas, the next piece of the puzzle is to design and enforce regulations for the manufacture, manufacture, and sale of medical marijuana products.
“We want to have and sell pharmacies here on the Qualla border, but we have to start this phase first,” said Wilson.
Councilor Richard French said medical cannabis legalization could help contain the opioid epidemic in the region and said at the meeting that “it is for the betterment of our people”.
“We are all affected by opioids,” he said. “We all lost someone.”
After meeting to review the regulation last month, Wilson said medical marijuana legalization would be a victory against addiction.
“We’re trying to find a way here to finally do something about the opioid crisis we’ve been grappling with for so long,” he said. “Many people want to use marijuana for their ailments rather than resorting to higher doses of prescription drugs. There are several stories that these things lead to addiction. “
A process that took years
In 2015, tribal leaders voted to begin drafting a medical cannabis ordinance. Since that time the issue has received steady support from members of the tribe.
“Over the three years I’ve been working on this, we’ve had good public support and more and more people are starting to understand the idea of cannabis, more specifically marijuana, the next game-changer,” said Wilson early on this year.
Currently, much of the economic opportunity for the Eastern Cherokee lies in the casino it operates in tribal areas. However, some of that revenue could be jeopardized by a casino being developed by the Catawba Nation outside of Charlotte on Kings Mountain. A newly legal medical marijuana industry on the Qualla border could create a new source of income for the Cherokee.
“Put us in a place and a legal framework where we can have a pharmacy here to supply the medical marijuana the public needs and create a new source of income for us,” said Wilson.