Tribe takes a step forward on medical marijuana  

by Oct 31, 2020Front Page, NEWS ka-no-he-da





Medical marijuana (also known as medical cannabis) has been a topic of discussion within the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) for the past five years.  Multiple pieces of legislation have been brought forth during that time with the latest being brought before Annual Council on Thursday, Oct. 29.  

Res. No. 323 (2020) was passed by Council unanimously by all present and directs the EBCI Executive Committee to develop “legislation directed toward allowing the use of medical marijuana on the Qualla Boundary in the most practical, responsible, and lawful way possible”.  

The legislation also states, “There is evidence that when properly regulated and responsibly-used, medical marijuana can be used to treat chronic illnesses and conditions including: epilepsy, seizures, muscle spasms, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, nausea, pain, complications related to Alzheimer’s Disease, Crohn’s Disease, and some mental health conditions.”  

It further states, “While marijuana continues to be prohibited by the Federal Controlled Substances Act, some tribes, 33 states, and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana to some extent.”  

Res. No. 323 was submitted by Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed; Jeremy Wilson, EBCI governmental affairs liaison; and Joey Owle, EBCI Secretary of Agriculture and Farming.

“When we did a town hall on the alcohol referendum, it was quite surprising that while there were many people at that meeting who opposed alcohol sales, there was a large contingent of people who supported medicinal marijuana.,” said Chief Sneed.  “There is also information that demonstrates that medicinal marijuana also has a place in helping people come off of opioids and heroin and so forth.”  

During discussion on the legislation, he noted, “I just want to be clear for the public and also for Council that this does not mean that tomorrow we’re going to start a program.  It’s simply asking for your permission to proceed with the legal framework.”  

Upon passage of the legislation, Owle, who has worked on the cannabis issue since 2015 when he was a member of the Common Sense Cannabis  group, was exuberant.   

“We’re at the point now to where this decision is a necessity so that we can open up other new revenue streams and we can provide an alternative means of treatment for members of our community,” he said.  “Now is the time to do it while we are talking about the threats of commercial gaming in our state and the surrounding states.  More states every year are adding medical cannabis or outright recreational legalization.  It’s time for our Tribe to take that step.” 

Owle added, “We have demonstrated that our Tribe can thoroughly, effectively, and legally operate gaming.  We can do the same thing with a medical cannabis program.”  

A time frame to bring the legislative legal framework for a medicinal marijuana program for the EBCI back to Council was not specified in Res. No. 323, but Owle noted it should be within six months.  

For further reading on the topic as related to the EBCI, search “cannabis” at