The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian’s tribal council in North Carolina moved to approve and legalize medical marijuana (MMJ) in its tribal lands in a vote earlier this month on May 6, 2021. Following this, the council’s decision makes groundbreaking history in the state as they make marijuana legal in one part of North Carolina as marijuana is still deemed illegal in the state and on a federal level.

According to CBS 17, the tribal council was unanimous in its decision in passing the vote to approve of and legalize marijuana in North Carolina. Based on the news site, the Cherokee council has its own set of laws to govern its tribal lands as it is recognized as a sovereign nation.

Spectrum News 1 reveals that the tribal council in North Carolina is following suit after Native American tribes in neighboring states have since made marijuana legal. Among these is the Oglala Sioux in North Dakota which legalized marijuana in October of 2020.

Cherokees Favor of Legalizing MMJ in North Carolina
South Dakota quickly followed suit after voters voted to legalize both recreational and medical cannabis in the November election, notes Spectrum News 1.

With the Cherokee tribe’s ruling, marijuana will be legal on the 100 square miles covered within the western most corner of the state under the tribe’s lands, reports the Charlotte Observer. This stretch of land is known as the Qualla Boundary, with around 13,400 citizens living on the reservation.

However, this decision is still slated to pose challenges and limitations. While the vote will approve possession of cannabis of up to one ounce of medical marijuana, it is still illegal for individuals to grow their own marijuana plants on the land. In addition, the selling of cannabis is also deemed illegal.

The council also voted part of the ordinance out. High Times reports that the provision would have allowed members to give small amounts of cannabis away. However, the condition of not being able to sell cannabis remains.

Based on the decision of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, only individuals aged 21 and up may possess up to an ounce of marijuana. Besides this, the provision also calls for the approval of possession of up to three-twentieths of an ounce of hashish.

In a statement, Spectrum News 1 said that Principal Chief Richard Sneed told the council that the vote is just the starting point for the tribe to start legalizing marijuana use and possession within its lands.

“There’s so much science now supporting cannabis as a medicine. This really is a quality of life issue as well for folks who have debilitating diseases, chronic pain, chronic back pain, cancer. … This is really just the first step, or kind of the cornerstone of moving toward medicinal. We have to have this in place first,” said Sneed.

Sneed also told The Cherokee One Feather that “Today’s decision by Tribal Council to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis by persons 21 or older is a first step towards better meeting the needs of our citizens who use cannabis as a medicine. I join those citizens in applauding the Council for its historic, compassionate and morally upright action,” reports the Charlotte Observer.

The successful passing of the vote is a move towards changing the current cannabis landscape in North Carlina. The High Times states it has taken years for tribal leaders to gain the support of other tribe members. However, over the past three years, more people have seen the benefits of cannabis and what it can do.

Shift From Opioid Abuse

Many members of the tribe and their loved ones have fallen victim to the opioid epidemic that has plagued the land. Richard French, a council member, even remarked that “All of us have been affected by opioids. All of us have lost someone.”

French said that the legalization of medical marijuana could help curb the use and or abuse of opioids in the land, saying “It’s for the betterment of our people.”

With numerous individuals in the land relying on drugs and prescription medication to treat varying diseases and illnesses, the legalization of medical marijuana could pave the way to reduce the overall reliance on opioids in the long run.

The Charlotte Observer states that there are some studies that find the cannabis plant to be effective in treating chronic pain, cancer, epilepsy, and seizures.

Income Augmentation for the Cherokees

One of the largest economic activities that generate income in these tribal lands are casinos. However, High Times notes that the establishment of another casino nearby in Kings Mountain just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina by the Catawba Nation, could pose dangers to the current economic landscape of the Cherokee Indians in the state.

Because of this, many are looking to generate income for the land by selling cannabis products through dispensaries.

In a statement by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian’s tribal council government affairs liaison Jeremy Wilson, he said, “We want to have dispensaries here on the Qualla Boundary and to be able to sell, but we have to start with this phase first.”

In another interview with Cherokee One Feather, Wilson also said that “Now that we are facing times for need of new revenue streams, cannabis fulfills that quest.”

CBS 17 reports that while one tribal leader was eager to turn legal marijuana into a revenue stream via dispensaries on the land, this was not the sole determining factor to approving and voting for its favor.

Cherokees Vote f Legalizing MMJ in North Carolina

Current Marijuana Landscape in North Carolina

As of writing, cannabis is still illegal in the state of North Carolina. While this state ruling remains, North Carolina also made the move to only punish individuals holding less than an ounce of marijuana with a fine.

The maximum fines range from $200 to $1,000. Individuals found in possession of more than 0.5 ounce to 1.5 ounces of marijuana, as well as more than 1.5 ounces to 10 pounds, will be fined a maximum of $1,000 and will be charged with a misdemeanor and felony respectively, with jail time ranging from one day to eight months depending on the charge.


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