By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Asst. Editor
Congressman Chuck Edwards (R-N.C.) said in a commentary to the Cherokee One Feather last month that he planned to propose a bill that would withhold federal funding from governments that violate federal cannabis law. He introduced the Stop Pot Act on Friday, Sept. 1.
In a press release, Edwards said, “The laws of any government should not infringe on the overall laws of our nation, and federal funds should not be awarded to jurisdictions that willfully ignore federal law. During a time when our communities are seeing unprecedented crime, drug addiction, and mental illness, the Stop Pot Act will help prevent even greater access to drugs and ease the strain placed on our local law enforcement and mental health professionals who are already stretched thin.”
H.R. 5323 (Stop Pot Act of 2023) would withhold 10 percent of federal highway funding from a federally recognized tribe or state permitting recreational cannabis use and sales.
Voters of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians approved a referendum during the General Election on Thursday, Sept. 7 giving a thumbs up for adult-use marijuana usage on tribal lands. The question read, “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?”
In the unofficial results of the referendum vote, 70 percent of participating tribal members voted “yes” on the question (2,464 voted “yes” and 1,057 voted “no”). The EBCI Election Board must present the result to Tribal Council to make the result official.
The approval of the referendum doesn’t automatically make “adult-use” legal on EBCI lands, but it does give direction to tribal leaders to amend tribal law to do so. Adult-use includes the recreational, non-medical, ingestion and absorption of cannabis.
Congressman Edwards submitted a commentary to the One Feather, entitled “The Cherokee people should say no to pot”, which was published on theonefeather.com website on Aug. 17 and in the Aug. 23 print issue.
In that commentary, he announced that he would be introducing the Stop Pot Act and encouraged EBCi tribal members to vote against the cannabis referendum. “If the tribal referendum passes, the Cherokee area will be the only place in North Carolina to buy legal recreational marijuana. People from all over the state and the surrounding areas will be driving to Cherokee and likely the EBCI’s other non-contiguous tribal lands to buy it, light up, and party. It also means many would be leaving the reservation and hitting the road high.”
Following publication of Congressman Edwards’ commentary, the One Feather received several responses to the commentary including a joint letter signed by Garrett Lagan, Swain Co. Democratic Party chair; Diane Snyder, Cherokee Co. Democratic Party chair; Cody Lewis, Jackson Co. Democratic Party chair; and Sam Edney, Transylvania Co. Democratic Party chair. They wrote, “Representative Edwards threatens to eliminate federal funds to tribal governments that choose to legalize any form of marijuana use. Rep. Edwards’ strategy reeks of the same paternalism we have seen throughout the history of federal dealings with tribal governments. This is not the action of a friend with a disagreement, it is patronizing and coercive.”
In a letter to the One Feather, Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed, praised the words of the four Democratic chairs and wrote, “In my estimation, Rep. Edwards has overstepped his authority and has made a major political blunder as a federal representative; a non-Indian, elected official telling a sovereign tribal nation how they ought to handle their business.”
Mary Jane Oatman, Indigenous Cannabis Industry Association (ICIA) executive director, was quoted in Native News Online on the issue. “The Eastern Band of Cherokee have the right to determine what works best for their community, including for Cannabis Policy reform. Tribal sovereignty encompasses a broad range when it comes to cannabis from serving as an economic driver to a health equalizer.”
Congressman Edwards said the bill is endorsed by the Christian Action League and the Smart Approaches to Marijuana Action organization.
The Stop Pot Act has one co-sponsor, Re. Gregory Murphy (R-N.C.), and has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.