By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Staff
Tribal Council made changes to drug code for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians when dealing with small amounts of marijuana. Ord. No. 380 was submitted by Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed; Jeremy Wilson, EBCI governmental affairs liaison; and Joey Owle, Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and passed 11-1.
Changes were made to Cherokee Code Sec. 14-95.5 (Possession of a controlled substance) that changed the amount of marijuana one could possess before being charged with a class C penalty from one-half of an ounce to one ounce. It also eliminated the word ‘aggravated’ in the charge leaving simply ‘possession of marijuana’. It also raised the amount of “extracted resin of marijuana, commonly known as hashish” one can legally possess from one-twentieth of an ounce to three-twentieths of an ounce.
The legislation also amended the law to add a class D penalty known as ‘underage possession of marijuana’ for anyone under the age of 21 who is found in possession of any amount of marijuana or hashish.
Several changes were made to Cherokee Code Sec. 14-95.11 (Drug paraphernalia) which eliminated certain items associated with marijuana use from the list of banned items including: “separation gins and sifters for removing twigs and seeds from, or otherwise cleaning or refining, marijuana” and “objects, commonly called roach clips, for holding burning material, such as a marijuana cigarette, that has become too small or too short to be held in the hand”.
One more change was to 14-95.6 (Manufacture, sell or deliver, or possession with intent to manufacture, sell, or deliver of a controlled substance). The following sentence, in subsection (C), was deleted, “The transfer of less than five grams of marijuana for no renumeration shall not constitute a delivery.”
Following Council’s vote, Chief Sneed told the One Feather, “Today’s decision by Tribal Council to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis by persons 21 or older is a first step towards better meeting the needs of our citizens who use cannabis as a medicine. I join those citizens in applauding the Council for its historic, compassionate and morally upright action.”
Owle has been involved in the movement to bring legal cannabis to the Qualla Boundary for several years now. He told the One Feather, “It is a good day. I’m excited that tribal leadership has taken this important first step to move us towards a medical cannabis program. It is important that we removed the criminal liabilities of possessing one ounce of cannabis or less for those, 21 years or older, who are using it find some relief from whatever ails them. There is much more work to be completed and I look forward to continuing championing cannabis law reform for the EBCI.”
Wilson has also been working towards legalization of cannabis for the Tribe and brought forth legislation when he previously served as a Tribal Council representative for the Wolftown Community. He told the One Feather, “While it was certainly a challenge getting to where we are today, and faced many political barriers, Joey and I worked diligently to find the best path forward to finally get our foot in the door. Over time, our Tribe has addressed the opioid epidemic, and over time we have consistently seen a climb in overdoses. None of these overdoses were related to marijuana, but are related to illegal hard drugs, and prescription opioids.”
He added, “What marijuana has proven is to be a natural form of medicine that can take care of chronic pain and can actually help people reverse their addiction from hard drugs. Now that we are facing times for need of new revenue streams, cannabis fulfills that quest. With today’s ordinance passing, the Tribe has now opened the can of opportunity instead of kicking the can down the road. Today’s passing has also brought a peace of mind to those who rely on cannabis for their medicinal needs. Today is a good day for the citizens of the EBCI, and a promising future for our economy.”
During discussion on the legislation during Thursday’s session, Wolftown Rep. Chelsea Saunooke commented, “This is a good thing. It’s pretty much long overdue.”
Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose noted, “If we had to start all over today, alcohol would be the one that wouldn’t be legal…cannabis is framed as a highway drug when really it’s alcohol. Cannabis would actually be the exit drug.”
Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke noted, “I hope that the public understands that this is for the future of medicinal only, not recreational.”
Big Cove Rep. Richard French was one of several Tribal Council representatives who recently visited the Paiute Tribe of Nevada to see their medicinal cannabis operation. “We all have elders in our communities who have problems that they don’t want to deal with opioids, and that’s what we’re preaching…this is just another way of helping our people. We’re not pushing recreational now. This is to get medicinal set up to help our people.”
Painttown Rep. Dike Sneed was the lone dissenting vote. He didn’t speak on the topic during Thursday’s debate, but he has voiced his opposition to the legislation in several other sessions.