Published On: Fri, May 6th, 2016

Council instructs AG to develop medical marijuana ordinance





In the near future, EBCI tribal members suffering from diseases such as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, and others might be able to seek relief from medical marijuana.  Tribal Council passed a resolution, submitted by Common Sense Cannabis, during its regular session on Thursday, May 5 which instructs the EBCI Attorney General’s office to draft an ordinance that would regulate the distribution of the medicine.

The ordinance, to be drafted by the Attorney General’s office, would “establish a medical marijuana law that would allow qualified tribal members to have regulated access to medical cannabis that is produced and provided on tribal trust lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians”.

Joey Owle, Common Sense Cannabis, began the discussion of the legislation on Thursday by reading a statement from Vice Chief Richard G. Sneed who was attending a North Carolina Peace Officers Memorial Ceremony honoring CIPD Officer Anthony Lossiah.  “For generations, our people have understood the value of botanicals as food and medicine.  We have had a unique relationship to our environment that continues today.  Plants being used as medicine is not a new concept to the Cherokee people.  It’s what we’ve always understood and practiced.”

Vice Chief Sneed’s statement went on to say, “We have before us an opportunity to take the first steps for compassionate care for those patients in our community suffering from epilepsy, seizures, chronic pain, nausea and symptoms associated with chemotherapy.”

He noted that 24 states and the District of Columbia are currently offering medical cannabis to its residents.  “We have the opportunity, once again, to lead Indian Country by investigating further the treatment options available to our people.”

Owle then spoke himself and related that his group has attended eight community club meetings, one community club council meeting and two community group meetings on this issue since January.  During the meetings, they distributed surveys asking several questions relating to cannabis usage.

Of the 172 surveys received back from EBCI tribal members, all of voting age, 58 percent stated they have consumed cannabis and 84 percent stated they know someone who has consumed cannabis.  “Seventy-one percent stated they would support legalization of cannabis for medicinal use.”

Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy commented, “I don’t want my husband or any other members of this Tribe to continue their lives on medicine that gives them the choice of losing their kidneys or losing their liver.  I don’t want to see any more people on this Boundary be prescribed opiates.”

She made the motion to pass the legislation and said, “The plants around us, every one of them was given to us and every one of them had medicine.”

Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke said she fears cannabis could lead to stronger drugs.  “I think it would probably be alright for medicinal purposes; however, it always frightens me whenever we legalize something that we’ve been taught is bad.”

Yona Wade, Common Sense Cannabis, related that marijuana is no longer listed by DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) as a gateway drug.  “What we’re asking for is to be allowed to set up a structure to ensure that folks that want to utilize medical cannabis as an alternative pain medication be allowed to do that.”

Sheila Standingdeer, EBCI tribal member, related, “It seems the moment you become a diabetic, are diagnosed, you are given a bag of around 20 different medicines.  You see the same people sitting down there in those dialysis chairs because of all of that medicine.”

She praised the natural nature of cannabis as a cure, “Chemotherapy destroys bad, good, everything.  Cannabis only does good.  You give someone cannabis, it will make those tumors turn around and beat themselves to death.”

There was some discussion as to the law and logistics of a medical cannabis program.

Wolfetown Rep. Bo Crowe inquired, “If it gets passed, are we going to have to grow it here on the reservation?”

Owle responded, “Legally, according to federal law, with the way various memos have been written, yes, it would have to be only on tribal trust lands.”

Birdtown Rep. Travis Smith voiced his concerns about federal and state laws.  “I just want to be careful of the money that we receive on the federal side to make sure we’re not putting any of that at risk.  There’s still laws here in North Carolina, and crossing boundary lines here is probably going to be the biggest thing we’re going to end up facing in how to work those out with the state and the counties.”

He mentioned the Tribal Marijuana Sovereignty Act, introduced in Congress last month by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) which would make it illegal for federal agencies to take into account the marijuana policy of a federally-recognized tribe when distributing federal monies.

The five-page bill also includes a section dealing with Indian Health Service, “…IHS medical professionals are authorized to make medical recommendations to their patients with regard to marijuana…”

If ratified by Principal Chief Patrick Lambert, the Attorney General’s Office has six months to present a medical marijuana ordinance to Tribal Council.