EDITORIAL: Choose your poison 

by May 16, 2016OPINIONS0 comments





“One pill makes you larger, one pill makes you small,
And the ones that mother gives you,
Don’t do anything at all,
Go ask Alice,
When she’s ten feet tall,

And if you go chasing rabbits,
And you know you’re going to fall,
Tell ’em a hookah-smoking caterpillar,
Has given you the call,
Call Alice,
When she was just small.”

“White Rabbit” – Grace Slick

We are living in very interesting and transitional times in Cherokee. Speaking with elders and reading about the morality and ethics of our ancestors, one would have never imagined that alcohol, marijuana and heroin would be prevalent topics on the Qualla Boundary. Then again, 40 years ago, the length of a generation, it probably would have been a shocker to our communities that the primary source of income for the Principal People would be gambling. The times they are a changing.

“White Rabbit”, written sometime prior to 1966, rose to number eight on the music charts in that year. Grace Slick, who wrote it, later admitted to heavy use of drugs like heroin and LSD. In one commentary on her work, she said she saw many correlations in children’s literature to the life in the drug scene at the time (“White Rabbit” was loosely based on Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland”). Songfacts.com comments, “She noticed that many children’s stories a substance of some kind that alters reality, and felt it was time to write a song about it”.

Our Vice Chief, along with other prominent Cherokee leaders, attended a Heroine Summit that allowed them to see the tremendous job ahead of turning the tide of drug abuse in America, North Carolina and the Qualla Boundary. During an interview with Vice Chief Sneed, he spoke earnestly, soberly and sadly about what he learned during the Summit.

There are business cartels that operate just like legitimate commodity providers working a network of clients all around the country. These heroin entrepreneurs headquarter in Mexico and, like seasoned marketers, they evaluate areas of the country that hold the best potential for selling their product. Western North Carolina is one of those areas targeted by Mexican heroin cartels. They have an elaborate system of getting product to the customer and even have customer service contact points to ensure that clients get good service and are satisfied with the quality. In the conversation with Vice Chief Sneed, I didn’t ask if one of the business signs for the dealers was a pair of shoes thrown over a power line, but I have had several friends tell me that is one of the calling cards of a drug exchange area.

In researching this drug issue, I noted that heroin addiction often begins with use of opiate-based pain killers in hospitals. In a future editorial, we’ll discuss this and other social foundations for abuse and drug dependency. But, for now, one of the contributing factors is the prescribing of opiates to patients with painful injuries or conditions. It gives the users their first “high” from chemical stimulation and begins, for some, the slide toward full-blown addiction.

We, as a Tribe, are currently discussing the legalization of marijuana production and distribution on the Boundary. The first proposal submitted to Tribal Council was for a study to consider the medicinal, industrial and recreational production and distribution. Tribal Council said “yes”, then the Principal Chief said “no” (with a veto) and then the Tribal Council said “no” (not enough votes to override the Chief’s veto).

This month, the group advocating for the production and distribution of marijuana, has now submitted and received a favorable vote from Council to direct the Attorney General’s office to prepare law in the form of regulations for the eventual allowance of production, distribution and sale of medicinal marijuana. No study. No research. No feasibility report. There are many questions that might be asked concerning this turn of events. If the problems that the Tribe is dealing with concerning heroin abuse stem from misuse or mal-prescription of opiates in medicine, should we have the same concerns when it comes to “medical” marijuana?

One argument for legalizing marijuana is that it could potentially be a cash crop. We seem poised to endorse a drug, at least partially, based on profit and under the guise of economic diversification. After all, if North Carolina legalizes production and distribution of medical marijuana, won’t we be missing the boat if we don’t do it too?

Time after time, the Cherokee people have said “no” to Boundary-wide alcohol sales. Some say it is a moral issue with the communities. I would suggest that it is more of a pain issue. Seeing fathers, mothers, sons and daughters succumb to the illusion that this drug is a friend-maker and problem-solver.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism (www.niaaa.nih.gov), “In 2014, 87.6 of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in the past year, 56.9 percent reported that they drank in the past month. In the same year, “24.7 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month; 6.7 percent reported that they engaged in heavy drinking in the past month”.

This anti-alcohol feeling was so strong that the people, via referendum vote in 2012, continued to limit the access of alcohol to the casino properties, probably costing the Tribe hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue and retail growth opportunities. The irony of that vote is that the same year, Jackson County voted alcohol in, so there is a convenience store within walking distance of the Boundary line, selling alcohol and realizing that revenue. It has been so profitable at that convenience store that the restaurant was closed down in favor of expanding alcohol capacity.

In order to deal with the issues that these drugs bring, we must, as a tribal community, educate ourselves on the realities of the consequences of each. I have only mentioned three, but there are many more. You only need to take a look at the weekly CIPD arrest report to find the personal impact of not educating yourself concerning these poisons. I totally understand the argument that some good may be done with each. Opiates, one of which is heroin, have been routinely used in medicine for hundreds of years. Alcohol is even used in over-the-counter medication for cough and cold. Yet, both have caused crime, pain and death. Cannabis, or marijuana, has also been shown to provide medical benefits. Marijuana, much like alcohol, has certain direct medical impacts to the body, but the primary concerns are that both have the ability to alter thought and behavior while the user is under their influence.

There are no easy answers to the use and control of drug use and abuse. We, as citizens of the Qualla Boundary, must educate ourselves about these issues and help our leadership make educated choices when it comes to regulation, production and distribution of any substance that has the potential to negatively impact us and future generations.