By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
After several years of talking about cannabis, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) is one step closer to entering the multi-billion dollar industry. A feasibility study was commissioned by the Tribe in February and its findings were presented to Tribal Council on the morning of Wednesday, July 10. No decisions were made concerning the study nor its findings; only a report was given.
The study, entitled “Hemp as a Feasible Commodity for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians”, was conducted by the Hempleton Investment Group and the Kight Law Office, a leader in cannabis legal issues in the country, based in Asheville.
Wolftown Rep. Jeremy Wilson, a driving force in trying to get the Tribe involved in the cannabis industry, spoke first during Wednesday’s meeting. “This is not about legalizing marijuana. This is about getting the Tribe into the hemp industry.”
He said the need for revenue diversification for the Tribe is immense. “There is going to be a point where gaming is going to plateau and we need to look at an option to carry us for the next 20 years and beyond.”
Rep. Wilson said that in parts of Indian Country “hemp is actually exceeding gaming” as far as total revenue.
Eric Stahl, Hempleton vice president of sales, started his presentation by clarifying what the study covered. “We are talking about hemp. We are not talking about marijuana.”
He noted that the study focused on industrial hemp which is a strain of Cannabis sativa that contains less that 0.3 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
“Hemp cannot get you high,” said Stahl. “There is no psychoactive element to hemp.”
He noted that hemp fiber is four times as durable as cotton and can be grown on the same land for 14 years without depletion. There are currently over 1,000 hemp farmers and 600 hemp processors in the state of North Carolina according to Stahl.
The study included several recommendations for the Tribe including launching an industrial hemp program and submitting a tribal plan for the operation to the USDA – a necessary step – as well as creating a Cannabis Industry Commission that would oversee all hemp operations within the Tribe’s territory.
While farming hemp could be an option for individual tribal members, Stahl outlined several business suggestions for the Tribe outside of farming the product including: developing a hemp processing plant, developing and marketing a hemp-derived CBD product line with a Cherokee brand, opening a hemp genetics labs, opening hemp retail stores to sell the products produced, and arranging for the opening of a cannabinoid testing facility designed for third-party testing of products.
Stahl noted, “The vast amount of revenue is from extraction and beyond.”
Rep. Wilson added, “It is a promising industry and one that we can capitalize on quickly and over time.”
Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell praised Rep. Wilson’s efforts over the last few years in helping to bring cannabis to the forefront for the Tribe. “I don’t want to miss out on this. It’s a huge opportunity for Cherokee.”
Rod Kight, Kight Law Firm, told Council on Wednesday that hemp is “expressly lawful” and added, “You can exercise your sovereignty to regulate it exactly how you want to regulate it within the Boundary.”
When asked what legal steps the Tribe would need to take next, he answered, “As sort of a house cleaning measure, I would amend the Code to confirm that hemp and hemp derivatives, such as CBD, are in fact not controlled substances. I think by implication that is currently true, but in order to make sure that things are absolutely clear under tribal law, I think that would be important to do.”
He suggested the next course of action would be to appoint a Commission to work on a plan to propose to the USDA.
Rep. Wilson gave closing remarks and noted, “This is a vision that I am bringing to you. This will create a new generational approach and new generational opportunities. Younger people are very attracted to this industry, and I think this will be a phenomenal opportunity for them in a multitude of areas.”