COMMENTARY: Approving adult-use cannabis is common sense



Aniwodihi (Painttown)


Cannabis has been debated by the tribal government of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) for going on a decade now.  EBCI voters voted overwhelmingly for a referendum in September 2023 approving adult-use (sometimes referred to as recreational) of cannabis.

To date, Dinilawigi (Tribal Council) has yet to add language to the Cherokee Code of Ordinances making adult-use legal on EBCI tribal lands. Doing so would not only go with the wishes of the EBCI voters, but it is also common sense.

Nine years ago, yes, nine years ago, a three-man group known as Common Sense Cannabis brought the idea before Dinilawigi to legalize cannabis within EBCI tribal lands.  The group was comprised of EBCI tribal members Joey Owle, Aaron Hogner, and Yona Wade.

They proposed a feasibility study, which was approved on Oct. 29, 2015, to look into “the issues and impact associated with legalization of cannabis.”

During that session, Owle noted, “Cannabis is a plant.  As Cherokee people, we know plants are medicine.”

He touted cannabis’ medicinal uses including being used to treat various conditions and diseases such as: sickle cell disease, migraines, Parkinson’s Disease, seizures, epilepsy, etc.

Less than a month later, then-Ugvwiyuhi (Principal Chief) Patrick Lambert vetoed the feasibility study. In his veto letter, he stated, “At a critical time in our Tribe’s history in dealing with all the human misery associated with illegal recreational use of drugs, I cannot in good conscience sign this legislation.  There are some drugs that do have good and solid medicinal uses, but when done for recreation often leads to severe addiction and misery for the user, the family of the user, and the larger community.”

To speed things up with this commentary, we’ll have to do a time jump. Just imagine years of back-and-forth discussions.

Then, in August 2021, Dinilawigi passed Ord. No. 539 which approved medical cannabis for the Tribe.

We’re now in 2023. Qualla Enterprises, LLC has been in operation for a few years and is operating a cannabis farm in Tsisqwohi (Birdtown).  I toured the facility in July 2023 and met with many of the workers there, and it’s an impressive, impressive operation.

In September, EBCI voters approved the following referendum question by a margin of 2,464 to 1,057: Do you support legalizing the possession of 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?

It passed…now what?

Well, since then, Qualla Enterprises, LLC has opened the Great Smoky Cannabis Company dispensary in Cherokee, N.C. for medical use at the moment.  Its first customer was EBCI Beloved Woman Myrtle Driver Johnson who purchased the first legal medical cannabis in the State of North Carolina.

At the grand opening on April 20 (4/20), 2024, Forrest Parker, Qualla Enterprises, LLC general manager and an EBCI tribal member, said, “It’s important to remember that our people have always been in communion with our natural resources.  These mountains are older and wiser than us, and our elders are too.”

The Tribe’s cannabis business to date has been a great source of employment for its members.  During a Dinilawigi work session in March 2024, Qualla Enterprises, LLC officials reported that the company has a total of 93 employees with 82 percent being EBCI tribal members.  That is staggering and awesome.

When I met with some of them at the farm last July, I found employees who were passionate about their work. They enjoyed it, and it showed in their entire operation.

In February 2024, a study was released by the University of Iowa College of Public Health stating that 17 percent of American adults aged 50 to 64 had used cannabis in the past year.  The study was published in The Gerontologist.

Study authors noted, “We expect cannabis use among late middle age and older Americans will at least double in the decade ahead.  As many as one of every five persons over 50 may be using cannabis in the year 2023, and mostly for a medical condition or symptoms.”

EBCI Public Health and Human Services released results to the One Feather in April from a survey regarding cannabis legalization on the tribal lands of the EBCI.

A whopping 64.14 percent reported that they “strongly support” legalizing cannabis with only 12.90 percent who stated they “strongly oppose”.  This bears out after seeing the results of the referendum.

At the opening day of the Great Smoky Cannabis Company, Beloved Woman Johnson told the crowd, “It makes me feel good that now we can add cannabis to our Native American medicines…it is a great day for the Cherokee people today.”

The funny thing about this commentary that you’re reading it is by a person who has never done cannabis. It’s just not my thing. If you were reading it and were picturing me as a hippie or Reggae-enthusiast, you’d be quite wrong. I just believe that cannabis is not a bad thing, certainly more responsible than alcohol, can help some people with certain conditions, and I don’t believe in telling adults what they can and cannot do.

Adult-use cannabis will not bring the “Reefer Madness” (1936 film) nonsense that some say it will. It just won’t.  So, please pass it and get on with it…there are truly more important things to work on.


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