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News, Politics

North Carolina Cherokee Tribe Votes to Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis

Carlo Romulo

by Carlo Romulo

September 19, 2023 03:30 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 5 Minutes
North Carolina Cherokee Tribe Votes to Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis

In a momentous decision that sent ripples through the heart of North Carolina, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), a sovereign Native American tribe in the state, have cast pivotal votes to legalize adult-use cannabis within their respective territories. This landmark move signifies significant departures from previous policies and ushers in new eras of cannabis regulation within tribal lands and the state of North Carolina. As debates over cannabis legalization continue to sweep the nation, these decisions reflect the evolving attitudes and considerations surrounding this once-controversial plant.

The Cherokee Tribe’s Important Decision

The Cherokee Tribe’s decision, centered in Western North Carolina, marks a significant shift in cannabis policy. An unofficial poll conducted in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Reservation showed nearly 70% of voters in favor of legalizing adult-use cannabis, according to a source from the Meredith Poll. This decision, born from an informed and democratic process, reflects the desire for progressive cannabis regulation within the tribe’s lands.

EBCI’s Bold Step Towards Sovereignty

For the EBCI, this vote represents a pivotal moment in asserting their sovereignty and self-determination. Joey Owle, the tribe’s secretary of agriculture and natural resources, expressed the significance of this decision: “For us, as the EBCI, as a sovereign nation, we are going to move forward with the results of tonight [September 8, 2023] with an adult-use program, and really the way that I see it is that we are putting an issue to bed.” This declaration reflects the tribe’s commitment to shaping its own destiny and embracing the potential benefits of cannabis legalization.

Building on Medical Marijuana Success

The path to recreational marijuana legalization in EBCI territory follows a foundation laid by the earlier approval of medical marijuana. Medical marijuana has already been legalized on EBCI land, and the tribe is taking steps to establish a medical cannabis dispensary, the Great Smoky Cannabis Co., planned to open later in 2023. The expansion into recreational cannabis marks a significant progression in the tribe’s approach to cannabis regulation and commerce.

Federal Uncertainty Looms

However, these historic votes occur against the backdrop of federal uncertainty. About a week prior to the tribal election, U.S. Rep. Chuck Edwards, a Republican, introduced the Stop Pot Act. This legislation aims to “withhold certain federal funding from states and tribes that permit the use of recreational marijuana.” While the implications of this federal move remain uncertain, it introduces a layer of complexity to the evolving landscape of cannabis policy.

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North Carolina’s Legislative Landscape

Notably, the votes within the tribe come after earlier efforts for medical marijuana legalization in North Carolina. Earlier this year, a medical marijuana legalization bill advanced in North Carolina’s Legislature, garnering attention and support. However, despite the progress, the bill was ultimately defeated by Republican lawmakers. The EBCI’s independent decision to move forward with recreational marijuana legalization underscores the diverse perspectives on cannabis policy within the state.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ votes to legalize recreational marijuana reflect a dynamic shift in North Carolina’s cannabis policy. These historic decisions affirm tribal sovereignty, embrace new economic opportunities, and emphasize the evolving attitudes and considerations surrounding cannabis legalization, both within tribal lands and the broader state of North Carolina.

Federal-State Dynamics

The tribal votes for cannabis legalization also bring to light the complex dynamics between tribal sovereignty, state laws, and federal regulations. While the tribes have asserted their rights to self-determination and cannabis regulation, the presence of federal laws, such as the Controlled Substances Act, poses challenges and uncertainties. The introduction of the Stop Pot Act by U.S. Rep. Chuck Edwards further underscores the intricate interplay between federal and tribal governance in the realm of cannabis.

Potential Economic Impact

One of the significant potential outcomes of these decisions is the economic impact on the tribal communities and the state. The establishment of a medical cannabis dispensary and the potential for recreational cannabis sales hold promise for generating substantial revenue. It could provide resources to enhance healthcare, education, and infrastructure within the tribal territories and contribute to the broader state economy.

A Brighter Future

As the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians progress with their respective cannabis programs, the spotlight remains on their progress. These decisions serve as a testament to their commitment to charting their own paths and building a brighter future for their communities. They also contribute to the larger national conversation about the responsible regulation of cannabis.

The votes by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are a significant turning point in North Carolina‘s cannabis landscape. These decisions represent a synergy of tribal sovereignty, evolving attitudes, and the quest for economic opportunities. They also serve as a reminder of the intricate relationship between federal and state laws in shaping the cannabis policies of sovereign nations within the United States. The path forward promises both challenges and opportunities as these communities navigate the complex terrain of cannabis legalization.

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