COMMENTARY: A note of encouragement on cannabis policy to the Cherokee people

by Sep 1, 2023OPINIONS0 comments

By N.C. Sen. GRAIG MEYER (D-District 23)


One of the driving factors that appears to unite North Carolina’s leaders in Raleigh and the federal leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives is the constant desire to fight the same battles over and over again, no matter the destructive consequences.

Unfortunately, that is especially true for the drug wars and cannabis. As the U.S. Congress has sat idly by doing what it does on many important issues — nothing — the states have brought progress on this issue. There are now 23 states (along with Washington, D.C., and two U.S. territories) that have fully legalized cannabis and 38 in total that allow cannabis for medical use.

N.C. Sen. Graig Meyer represents Senate District 23, which includes Orange, Person and Caswell counties. (Photo contributed)

Broad majorities of Americans and North Carolinians — Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike — agree that the draconian crackdown on drugs has ruined the lives of millions. That destruction continues today and wide swaths of Americans know drug prohibition  went too far and has failed to make the U.S. a healthier, more prosperous place. Those numbers include upward of 80 percent of Republicans. So this should not be viewed as a partisan issue.

North Carolina’s prohibition on cannabis is used primarily to discriminate against and jail people of color, as Governor Cooper’s racial equity task force research has shown.

The Cherokee tribe could break ground in North Carolina by allowing for legal, regulated cannabis use. I’m jealous. While I have long favored cannabis legalization and have pushed my colleagues in the state legislature to move North Carolina forward on this issue, there has been no significant progress.

I respect the sovereignty of the Cherokee people and the tribe’s right to make its own decisions on its land. I’m very interested to see what you decide.

My purpose in writing here is to lay out the opportunity we could have as a state if the Sept. 7 referendum passes. I will push our partners in state government – from law enforcement to public health officials – to work with the tribe in helping where we can and mostly staying out of your way.

Legalization will come to North Carolina one day. And we should all be smart about how we approach it. We all know cannabis legalization does not come without risks. Those under the age of 25 face particular health risks, and we must work with health officials and law enforcement to address the risks that come with the inappropriate use.

Getting cannabis policy right requires good policy on the growth, processing, distribution, taxation, regulation, and enforcement. That’s a complex challenge.

That’s why, at the state level, I have introduced S. 346, the Marijuana Justice and Reinvestment Act. The “North Carolina way” on legalization we believe should look different than other states.

We would:

  • Use any tax dollars gained to reinvest in communities harmed by the war on drugs (including, of course, Native people);
  • Ensure North Carolinians and not large multinational corporations benefit from this new industry;
  • Institute a distribution system even more stringent than the state’s ABC liquor system by ensuring the state regulates and tests a tightly controlled cannabis product pipeline;
  • Support a robust public health campaign. If there’s ever been an industry that doesn’t need advertising to be popular, this is it. Simply put, cannabis should be legalized but not glamorized.

There is always fear around doing something new. And the fear about cannabis makes some people irrational. That fear seems to have turned into threats in Congressman Chuck Edwards’ recent column in this same paper. As I mentioned in my opening, some politicians want to fight the same battles over and over again, but I have no idea why Edwards would want to wage an attack on Cherokee tribal sovereignty. I thought that war was over, too. The federal funding owed to the EBCI must never be a tool for extorting one man’s policy preferences.

I have no threat to levy on the Cherokee Nation. Simply an offer of encouragement: It’s time for sensible cannabis policy. You may be ahead of North Carolina in getting this done. I hope we’ll follow your lead and do all we can to learn from your example.

N.C. Sen. Graig Meyer represents Senate District 23, which includes Orange, Person and Caswell counties.