Tribe approves civil fines for drug possession
By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
People caught in possession of any controlled substance on the Cherokee Indian Reservation will now be subject to additional civil fines. Tribal Council passed the Controlled Substances Civil Penalty Fee legislation during Budget Council on Tuesday, Aug. 2.
“This is going to be applicable for any person, member or non-member, who is arrested on the Boundary in possession of a controlled substance,” Sheena Meader, EBCI Office of the Attorney General, told Council. “I was asked to draft this Ordinance by Chief of Police Sneed after a piece of North Carolina law was brought to his attention and based on comments from the community.”
After some discussion and debate, the amounts for each fine were set at $1,500 per schedule with a maximum fine set at $5,000. The schedules covered include:
- Schedule I (Heroin, Ecstasy, GHB, Opiates, LSD, other hallucinogens, and others)
- Schedule II (Methamphetamine, Morphine, PCP, Cocaine, Methadone, Demerol, Opium, Codeine, Hydrocodone, and others)
- Schedule III (Ketamine, anabolic steroids, and others)
- Schedule IV (Benzodiazepines, phenobarbital, Valium, Xanax, Clonazepam, and others)
- Schedule V (Over-the-counter cough medicines with codeine, Pyrovalerone, and other others)
- Schedule VI (Marijuana, Hashish, Tetrahydrocannabinols, etc.)
Principal Chief Patrick Lambert told Council he gives his full endorsement for the legislation. “This impacts not just enrolled members. This impacts non-members and gives us a way, through civil penalties, a means to hit those people who are bringing drugs onto our Boundary.”
The fines as outlined in the original piece of legislation were as follows: Schedule I – $500, Schedule II – $400, Schedule III – $300, Schedule IV – $200, Schedule V – $100, and Schedule VI – $50.
Chief Lambert advocated those fines to be doubled or tripled. “Let’s make it real…I think this is way overdue. I think this is a first great step, but we need to go even stronger than are here so the people that are bringing drugs onto our Boundary need to feel the hit as hard as we can.”
Birdtown Rep. Travis Smith made the motion, which was approved, to set the amounts at $1,500 per schedule. “When it comes down to it, if it’s a drug, it’s illegal…”
He added, “The DARE fine is $1,000. If you get caught with an open container, it’s $1,000. That’s a lot of money. Drugs, they’re a little more serious than that so I think that it needs to be quite a bit.”
Meader explained that the total fine amounts are capped at $5,000 in small claims actions in Cherokee Tribal Court. The legislation states that such fines would be considered such an action.
Chief Lambert further related, “And, if they don’t pay right then, then we issue a judgment against them, and with the North Carolina recognition of full faith and credit, we’d be able to follow up on that and get a judgment executed in their own court.”
The legislation outlines a process for those wishing to contest their fine. “To contest a citation, the person cited must appear before the Cherokee Court at the time and date specified on the face of the citation and plead not responsible. This action will be docketed as a small claims action and will follow the procedures set forth in C.C. (Cherokee Code) 1-11.”
Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose commented, “I agree up upping the fines on this, but what I’m looking for is when are we going to start charging these people with felonies instead of just misdemeanors? How do we get to that point?”
He went on to say, “You see the same people in and out. It’s a misdemeanor. They pay their fines and they’re out of there.”
Following the action on Tuesday, Chief Lambert issued the following statement, “I made a commitment when I took office that I would protect Cherokee families and help stem the tide of drug use in the community. That is why I have brought forward these changes that would hit drug dealers right where it hurts, their pockets.”
The legislation will become law upon ratification by Chief Lambert.