By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Asst. Editor
CHEROKEE, N.C. – Voters of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) will get to vote on whether or not to allow adult-use (sometimes referred to as recreational) cannabis on tribal lands. During its regular session on Thursday, July 13, Tribal Council approved Res. No. 633 (2023) which adds the following referendum question to the September General Election ballot:
- “Do you support legalizing the possession and use of cannabis for persons who are at least twenty-one (21) years old and require the EBCI Tribal Council to develop legislation to regulate the market?”
Res. No. 633, submitted by Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy, passed 56-38 (6 absent) with voting going as follows: FOR – Rep. McCoy, Birdtown Rep. Boyd Owle, Yellowhill Rep. T.W. Saunooke, Tribal Council Vice Chairman Albert Rose, Tribal Council Chairman Richard French, Cherokee Co. – Snowbird Rep. Bucky Brown, Cherokee Co. – Snowbird Rep. Adam Wachacha; AGAINST – Wolftown Rep. Mike Parker, Yellowhill Rep. David Wolfe, Painttown Rep. Michael Stamper, Wolftown Rep. Andrew Oocumma; ABSENT – Painttown Rep. Dike Sneed.
“We have dragged our feet,” Rep. McCoy said during discussion on the issue on Thursday. “We got cold feet on the cannabis issue.”
Vice Chairman Rose noted, “This is the community’s project, it is not a certain person’s project at all. It’s very important that this go out to the people.”
Rep. Stamper commented, “I agree with giving the people a voice and an opportunity to vote, but as a steward of the Tribe, I have a fiscal responsibility to everyone in regards to this and right now we are having issues finding funding to do the medical portion of it right now.”
I don’t have any reason to think that it wouldn’t pass, but I do fear the immense support to push to get us into a deeper market that we don’t really have the financials to support right now would be overwhelming and it could cause some fiscal issues down the road. With that in mind, it would be best to not give this question until we’re at a point where we can financially support a recreational program. Right now, we’re just trying to get medical off the ground.”
Forrest Parker, Qualla Enterprises, LLC general manager, commented, “The revenue from cannabis, as it pertains to the revenue Qualla (Enterprises) brings in, is directly tied to the number of people who can legally walk in and buy the product. Adult-use obviously drives those numbers.”
He then read from a recent study conducted on Qualla Enterprises, LLC which runs the cannabis operation for the Tribe. “Gross revenue from medical cannabis starts at $206 million and approaches $578 million by year five. If adult use were legalized, revenue could conservatively reach $385 million in the first year and exceed $800 million by year five.”
The study is entitled “Cannabis Opportunity: Significant and Sustained Revenue, Employment with Purpose, and Beneficial Impact for Families and Cherokee Community” and was conducted by HedgeRow Analysis.
Joey Owle, an EBCI tribal member, brought up the issue years ago as a part of a then-active group called Common Sense Cannabis. On Thursday, he commented, “Eight years ago, I started to advocate for this. We could have already been there. This could be history. This could be something else that we’re talking about. But, I do support that this goes out to referendum for our community members to have input on.”