Dinilawigi (Tribal Council) reverses decision on hemp stores; adult-use cannabis ratified

CHEROKEE, N.C. – Three weeks after passing legislation banning individually-owned hemp/cannabis stores on the tribal trust lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Dinilawigi (Tribal Council) has reversed that decision.  Robert Mark “Bertie” Saunooke, an EBCI tribal member and owner of two hemp/CBD stores in Cherokee, submitted a protest to Dinilawigi on Ord. No. 63 (2024) which was passed on June 6.

That protest, which dealt with two floor amendments added to Ord. No. 63, was heard during a special session of Dinilawigi on Thursday, June 27.

In a protest letter to Dinilawigi Chairman Mike Parker, Saunooke wrote, “This floor amendment has the effect of shutting down all privately owned hemp stores on the Qualla Boundary.  As an enrolled member of the EBCI and an interested party in this ordinance change, I hereby protest the floor amendment to the ordinance affecting hemp stores.”

I am an interested party because I own two hemp/CBD stores.  My stores, which sell hemp products under the name Native Cloud, are located in Saunooke Village and near the Subway restaurant on Tsalagi Road.  If this ordinance is not changed, both of my stores will have to close.”

During the session on June 27, Dinilawigi approved Res. No. 239 (2024), submitted by Saunooke, which states, “The new Cherokee Code Section 17-74(c) if enacted will make illegal the private ownership of stores that sell hemp and hemp products; and outlawing private ownership of stores that sell hemp and hemp products will cause great financial burdens to enrolled members who own these stores.”

Res. No. 239 offered amendments to Ord. No. 63 which added Section 17A-1 through Section 17A-7 dealing with the regulation of hemp products and stores.  Nine Dinilawigi representatives voted to pass Res. No. 239 with Elawodi (Yellowhill) Rep. Tom Wahnetah abstaining and Kolanvyi (Big Cove) Rep. Perry Shell and Tsisqwohi (Birdtown) Rep. Jim Owle absent.

After the resolution was approved, Dinilawigi then voted to pass the amended Ord. No. 63.  Eight representatives voted to pass with Rep. Wahnetah and Aniwodihi (Painttown) Rep. Dike Sneed abstaining and Reps. Shell and Owle absent.

Prior to the vote, Aniwodihi (Painttown) Rep. Michael Stamper, who offered the two floor amendments to the legislation on June 6, stated, “I read Bertie’s substitute floor amendment. I think its good. I think it speaks to what I was trying to get at which is the regulatory element of these hemp stores. I think it has a good footing going forward as to where we need to be headed.”

Michael McConnell, EBCI attorney general, wished to clarify one piece of the legislation.  “One of those floor amendments authorized persons meeting certain criteria to grow four marijuana plants within their home.  By removing the floor amendment to the ordinance, the ordinance now says that nobody can grow marijuana in their home.  So, we went from original, 10 plants. The floor amendment dropped us to four plants.  What’s been passed at this point is zero plants for home grow.”

EBCI voters approved a referendum during the 2023 General Election on Sept. 7 which asked, “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?”  The referendum passed 2,464 (yes) to 1,057 (no).

Joey Owle, an EBCI tribal member, stated during the June 27 session, “I think there is concern out there in the community.  The community did vote overwhelmingly for an adult-use ordinance change, and I think Cherokee would be the only place in the United States with a cannabis law that doesn’t allow people to grow their own plant.  When we passed the medical law, it was the most rigid in the country at 42-plus pages when most laws were 12, 15 pages…we do have one of the most restrictive cannabis laws probably in the nation.”

Ugvwiyuhi (Principal Chief) Michell Hicks commented, “I went back and looked at what the people voted on and absolutely, it was overwhelming – I think 68 percent is what I saw in the tally…the vote was for the tribe to control just like we do alcohol.  It wasn’t to create cannabis shops throughout Cherokee.  So, I didn’t see any intent for entrepreneurial spirit within this.

We’ve invested millions of dollars in this particular investment.”

McConnell echoed Ugvwiyuhi Hicks’ comments, “That vote was precisely to have the tribe regulate the market regarding marijuana.  The vote, and I’m talking about the referendum vote back in September, said nothing about growing marijuana in your home.  From the AG’s (Attorney General’s) perspective, we prefer that, at this time, the Tribe not allow home grow. And, I’m coming to that issue from a regulatory/enforcement angle.  I’m not making any statement about whether its good for a person or not good for a person.

My request to Tribal Council would be that if it desires to again take up the issue of home grow that it does it in the future, not today.”

Ugvwiyuhi Hicks ratified Ord. No. 63 on Friday, June 27.


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