By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Legislation establishing the Cannabis Commission of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) was approved (Sept. 12), vetoed (Oct. 2), and re-introduced and subsequently tabled (Oct. 17) all within the span of a little more than a month. Tribal Council approved legislation (Res. No. 731-2019) on Sept. 12 to establish the Commission following a July report on the feasibility study entitled “Hemp as a Feasible Commodity for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians” which listed its establishment as a recommendation.
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed vetoed that legislation in early October, and a Special Session of Council was called on Friday, Oct. 4 to hear the veto. In his veto letter, Chief Sneed wrote, “The passage of Res. No. 731 (2019) was a historic action taken by our Tribe towards greater economic diversification. Yet, it is premature in nature. The USDA is preparing to release hemp regulations for publication in the Federal Register and for public comment this fall to accommodate the 2020 growing season. It was advised in the ‘Hemp as a Feasible Commodity’ study that tribes do not need to submit a plan until regulations are in place. While the USDA is developing a system in which states and Indian tribes submit plans to USDA for approval to administer hemp production, the USDA will also provide a plan for those individual producers, states, and tribes who do not wish to submit their own plans.”
It continued, “Rather than heavily invest into this venture without proper planning and clearly understanding our own farming communities’ status regarding hemp production, our people can still be afforded an avenue to enter into and continue hemp production under USDA regulatory framework while we work to create a solid framework and path forward for the EBCI.”
Following some discussion, Council failed to override the veto. Voting on that measure went as follows: In favor of overriding the veto – Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke, then-Painttown Rep. Lisa Taylor, then-Wolftown Rep. Jeremy Wilson, Tribal Council Chairman Adam Wachacha, Vice Chairman David Wolfe, Yellowhill Rep. Tom Wahnetah, and Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Bucky Brown (total of 50 weighted vote); opposing overriding the veto – Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose, Wolftown Rep. Bo Crowe, Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell, and Big Cove Rep. Richard French (38); and absent – Birdtown Rep. Boyd Owle (12).
So, Chief Sneed’s veto held.
Fast forward to Annual Council on Thursday, Oct. 17 and Wilson, no longer a Wolftown Tribal Council representative following the Oct. 7 Inauguration of the newly elected officials, brought in legislation (Res. No. 24 – 2019) to form the Cannabis Commission. After a lengthy discussion, that legislation was tabled with the voting going as follows: For tabling the legislation – Painttown Rep. Dike Sneed, Wolftown Rep. Chelsea Saunooke, Rep. Crowe, Chairman Wachacha, Vice Chairman Wolfe, Rep. French, and Rep. Brown (56); opposed to tabling – Rep. Saunooke, Rep. Wahnetah, Rep. Owle, and Rep. Shell (32); and absent – Rep. Rose.
Wilson’s new legislation completely eliminated compensation for the Commission, a sticking point for some in the initial discussion, and reduced the total budget from $240,000 to $162,000. Towards the end of the discussion, he noted, “I’ve been spearheading this thing for two years, and I’ve made every effort that I can possibly make to get the education out, to get people involved, and to be as transparent as I possibly can. I’ve created social media pages for the general public to be involved called EBCI Hemp. It’s on Facebook. Anyone is allowed to be on there. I’ve ran polls. Every poll that I’ve ran has been heavily in favor and have primarily been enrolled members who have been in favor of this.”
He added, “I get it, there’s people out there who are either opposed to it or just don’t know much about it, but then again that is the importance of driving an educational effort…what I caution is back-peddling this opportunity because all this Commission is tasked with is to form a plan for you. It is not to instantly put you into the industry…”
Rep. Crowe noted, “Right now, my two community clubs (Big Y and Wolftown) are just not sold on the idea yet. I know one thing that was bothersome was Cannabis Commission, and they would like to see it changed to Hemp Commission. Cannabis is just too broad. If we’re going to be looking into hemp, they’d rather see it just be the Hemp Commission.”
Chairman Wachacha said he’d like to see more research on the issue as far as what legislation has been passed by Council regarding medical marijuana. He said he supports the idea but wants to have all of the information, “Yes, it is a money maker, but I think there are certain niches there that maybe, as a Tribe, we can try to get into. I don’t know if it is through farming, or through dispensaries…but, I think with a Commission it would allow us to better find out which direction we need to go with it and how much we want to put into it.”
Rep. Owle said it is a billion-dollar industry that the Tribe could enter. “I’m certainly for it because we have to diversify.”
Wilson further said, “The longer this gets back-peddled, you’re going to lose opportunities. I can promise you that, and I don’t want to see that happen.”
During the presentation to Council on the feasibility study in July, Eric Stahl, Hempleton Investment Group (group that performed the study) vice president of sales, noted that the study focused on industrial hemp which is a strain of Cannabis sativa that contains less than 0.3 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). “Hemp cannot get you high,” he said then.
Stahl further said 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 him.
It was not decided when Wilson’s new legislation would come back to the floor for further discussion.