Chief Sneed issues vetoes on cannabis legislation; Tribal Council upholds vetoes

by May 8, 2023NEWS ka-no-he-da0 comments


One Feather Asst. Editor


CHEROKEE, N.C. – A month after Tribal Council approved $64 million for the Qualla Enterprises, LLC medical cannabis business, the legislation approving the monies has been vetoed.  Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed sent a letter to Tribal Council Chairman Richard French on Wednesday, May 3 issuing a veto on Res. No. 496 (2023) which was approved by Council on Thursday, April 6.

The money was to come from the Tribe’s Investment Accounts and General Fund and was to be used for operational costs including staffing, increased infrastructure at its grow site, and to finish a retail facility.

During its regular session on Thursday, May 4, Council heard and upheld Chief Sneed’s veto by a vote of 67-26 (7 absent).  Chairman French, Tribal Council Vice Chairman Albert Rose, and Yellowhill Rep. T.W. Saunooke voted against upholding the veto.  Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy was absent.

Res. No. 496 passed in April by a vote of 63-31 (6 absent).  The four dissenting votes (totaling 31 in weighted vote) were from Wolftown Rep. Michael Parker, Painttown Rep. Dike Sneed, Painttown Rep. Michael Stamper, and Yellowhill Rep. David Wolfe.  Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Adam Wachacha was absent.

In this veto letter, Chief Sneed wrote, “As I have stated many times before, I support the medical cannabis program and the Tribe’s efforts to build a cultivation facility and medical cannabis dispensary.  I was one of the people who helped to get the needed legislation passed to launch the operation, and I have ratified previous resolutions that resulted in the cannabis program receiving $31 million in funding from the Tribe.”

He then outlined his reasoning for the veto in three points.  First, he noted, “The National Indian Gaming Commission, the federal regulatory body tasked with oversight of all Indian Gaming in the United States has released a memo stating, ‘IGRA (Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) restricts the use of net gaming revenues to five categories and may not be used to fund an illegal enterprise.  The cultivation, sale, and possession of cannabis is illegal under federal law and, therefore, net gaming revenue should not be used to finance such an operation.’”

Chief Sneed added, “While it remains to be seen what action the NIGC might take in response to a tribe using net gaming revenue for such an enterprise, I, for one, am not willing to risk hefty fines or the possibility of our casinos being shut down for violating NIGC regulations.”

Secondly, he stated, “To date, there has been no accounting for the millions of dollars expended thus far…as I have stated repeatedly in both open and closed sessions of Council, each elected official at the Tribe has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that the assets of the Tribe are being properly accounted for and that waste, fraud, and abuse are not occurring.”

Lastly, Chief Sneed wrote, “The fact that his project’s original cost for an outdoor grow, an indoor grow, and a dispensary was $50 million, and we are now being told it is $95 million, demonstrates that there is an immediate need for a full accounting of the money that has been expended to date.”

“While I fully support cannabis, both medical and adult use, and I am encouraged and inspired by the work I see happening at Cooper’s Creek by our employees, I am very troubled by the lack of accountability for the managing side of the business side of the operation.”

In other tribal cannabis news, Chief Sneed also issued a veto letter to Chairman French for Ord. No. 531 (2023).  This legislation was also passed during the April 6 session and would have amended the Tribe’s Medial Marijuana Code found in Cherokee Code Chapter 17 to allow for quality control sampling by employees of EBCI Enterprises.  The ordinance states, “…there are not better qualified experts to sample products than the employees who produce them and whom are responsible for understanding the quality standards of their outputs, and can identify substances/contaminants that are not detected by laboratory quality assurance tests.”

In his veto letter, Chief Sneed writes, “I am informed that on-site sampling by employees for quality control is an accepted practice in the cannabis industry.  I have vetoed Ordinance No. 531 not because of its subject matter but because it is not in accord with the regulatory system the Tribe has established to regulate cannabis consumption.  In Cherokee Code Chapter 17 and in the administrative rules adopted under Cherokee Code Chapter 150, medical marijuana may only be consumed by persons who have received a medical cannabis card from the Cannabis Control Board.  Employee sampling for quality control purposes should not be made into an exception to this requirement.”

He added, “While there is a way to allow for effective and responsible employee quality control sampling, it is not prudent to allow this issue to fall outside the already existing regulatory framework of the Tribe’s medical cannabis system.”

Council upheld Chief Sneed’s veto on Ord. No. 531 by a vote of 61-32 (7 absent).  Chairman French, Vice Chairman Rose, Rep. Saunooke, and Rep. Sneed were the dissenting votes totaling 32 in weighted vote.  Rep. McCoy was absent.

Qualla Enterprises, LLC released the following statement to the One Feather, “Qualla Enterprise Board of Managers, its staff, and its partners are extremely proud of this project’s success thus far. We greatly appreciate the overwhelming support throughout the communities and continued partnership from our Tribe. We look forward to connecting at a higher level within the community and continue moving forward in the best interest of all tribal members.”