The Cherokee Tribal Council today approved a 42-page ordinance that will establish a system to support legalized medical marijuana on the Qualla Boundary.
“This is a compassionate care issue,” said Principal Chief Richard Sneed, one of the ordinance’s three submitters. “This is an issue for people who have chronic pain, for people who have cancer and who are in chemotherapy and can’t eat, for people who have PTSD, for soldiers who have come back from combat, for those who are battling opiod addiction. This is the off-ramp.”
The ordinance creates a new Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Cannabis Advisory Commission that will study cannabis-related issues and make regulatory recommendations. Meanwhile, a new EBCI Cannabis Control Board will set the regulations.
The law allows for licensure of dispensaries where people holding valid medical cannabis patient cards will be able to acquire cannabis products. Dispensaries may not be within 1,000 feet of a pre-existing school or community facility such as a park, playground, day care, swimming pool, community club building or church. The Control Board will be responsible for establishing a program to issue the cards, which may be given only to people age 21 and older. If the person’s health care provider later diagnoses them as no longer having the condition that originally qualified them for the card, the person must return the card.
During the first three years that the law is in effect, medical cannabis cardholders will be limited to buying one ounce of medical marijuana per day and 6 ounces per month. There will be a limit of 2,500 milligrams of THC in medical cannabis products sold to an individual cardholder per day and 10,000 milligrams per month. Additionally, there may not be more than two medical cannabis dispensary locations, and only Kituwah Medical LLC — an entity wholly owned by the EBCI — or one of its wholly owned subsidiaries may be issued medical cannabis establishment licenses.
Once the three-year period ends, the Control Board may consider policies in conflict with those to be stipulated for the initial 36 months.
While medical card holders will not face tribal prosecution for possessing cannabis products they are entitled to under the new law, transporting medical cannabis in the passenger area of the car in any container other than the manufacturer’s original, unopened container will be illegal. Consuming medical cannabis while driving will also be a criminal offense. Either would be punishable by a fine of $25-$500 or up to 30 days in jail.
Tribal member Robert Saunooke told Council that he’s a proponent of cannabis but that because marijuana is still illegal under federal law, passing the legislation is irresponsible.
“If you open a facility here today and you give tribal members cannabis, the tribe, the members, the people who do it, will be subject to arrest,” he said. “This is an illegal action. Nothing can change that currently. In the future it might change, but don’t pass laws based on what might happen in the future.”
“What a wonderful day to make history to exercise our sovereignty,” replied Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources Joey Owle, another of the ordinance’s submitters. “If it were an issue for the federal government about cannabis legalization, it would have addressed it with the 36 states the four territories that allow medical cannabis. It would have addressed it with the 18 states, two territories and the District of Columbia that have legalized it for adult use.”
Painttown Representative Tommye Saunooke said that she supports medical marijuana but asked Council to table the legislation to give everyone more time to look over its contents. Tribal Council had recently held a work session on the topic, she acknowledged, but because new copies of the legislation containing a final set of proposed amendments were passed out just minutes earlier, members should have more time to evaluate those last-minute changes, she said.
Saunooke’s move to table ultimately failed with four Council members in favor and eight opposed. Voting against the table were Wolfetown Representatives Chelsea Saunooke and Bo Crowe; Birdtown Representatives Albert Rose and Boyd Owle; Big Cove Representatives Perry Shell and Richard French; Snowbird/Cherokee County Representative Bucky Brown and Chairman Adam Wachacha. In favor were Painttown Representatives Tommye Saunooke and Dike Sneed, Yellowtown Representative Tom Wahnetah and Vice Chairman David Wolfe.
The legislation then received an affirmative vote to pass along the same fault line, with eight in favor and four opposed.
The legislation requires Sneed’s signature to become effective. This story will be expanded in print and online.