By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The USDA established the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program officially on Wednesday, Oct. 29 and released important regulations for states and federally recognized tribes in the process.
The lack of these regulations was a sticking point for Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed in the establishment of a Cannabis Commission for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). In early October, he vetoed Res. No. 731 (2019), which would have established a Cannabis Commission for the Tribe, stating at the time, “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.”
He advised waiting for the USDA regulations.
Following the announcement by the USDA, Chief Sneed told the One Feather, “The EBCI has been waiting for these regulations so we may better understand the opportunity the Eastern Band has while staying within an established legal framework. I look forward to bringing this information to the EBCI, particularly Tribal Council, so we may resume our work to establish a Commission to advance our interests in hemp production.”
He added, “We have some very capable staff working on this issue and will continue to engage outside partners to ensure we maximize our return on investments.”
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue commented on Wednesday, “At USDA, we are always excited when there are new economic opportunities for our farmers, and we hope the ability to grow hemp will pave the way for new products and markets. We have had teams operating with all hands-on-deck to develop a regulatory framework that meets Congressional intent while seeking to provide a fair, consistent, and science-based process for states, tribes, and individual producers who want to participate in this program.”
The USDA’s interim final rule is being published in the Federal Register. According to information from the USDA, “The rule includes provisions for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to approve hemp production plans developed by states and Indian tribes including: requirements for maintaining information on the land where hemp is produced; testing the levels of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol; disposing of plants not meeting necessary requirements; and licensing requirements. It also establishes a federal plan for hemp producers in states or territories of Indian tribes that do not have their own approved hemp production plan.”
Following the veto of Res. No. 731, which withstood an override vote on Oct. 4, new legislation (Res. No. 24 – 2019) was submitted during Annual Council to establish a Cannabis Commission for the Tribe. That legislation, submitted by former Wolftown Rep. Jeremy Wilson who now serves as the EBCI governmental affairs liaison, completely eliminated compensation for the Commission and reduced the budget from $240,000 to $162,000.
The legislation states “hemp is not medical marijuana or recreational marijuana” and provides that the Commission’s purpose would be to:
- Develop an EBCI Hemp Regulation Plan for submission to the USDA;
- Research, draft, and submit to Tribal Council for its review and approval any necessary amendments to the Cherokee Code to support the Tribe’s conduct of lawful activities in the hemp industry and development of economic opportunities for the Tribe in that industry and related industries;
- Develop a long-range plan for the Cannabis Commission or other hemp regulatory entity for the Tribe;
- Develop necessary administrative rules for review and approval under tribal law; and
- Develop a long-term economic plan for the Tribe regarding the hemp industry.
The idea for the Cannabis Commission was a recommendation from the feasibility study, initiated by Tribal Council, entitled “Hemp as a Feasible Commodity for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians”. During a presentation to Council regarding 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,” Stahl told Council at the presentation in July. He 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.
The agenda for the Thursday, Nov. 14 regular session of Tribal Council has not been released yet, but it is likely that Res. No. 24 will be discussed during that session.