North Carolina Tribe Votes To Legalize Cannabis – State Law Be Damned

Anton Watman /
Anton Watman /

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) held a vote on September 7th about the future of their tribe and what is the best direction for them. As a clear middle finger to North Carolina’s anti-cannabis Congressmen, their vote passed 70-to-30. While the vote does not make it legal immediately, tribal leaders have said they will honor the vote when they take up the issue.

Putting the subject to vote among the tribe’s enrolled members, the EBCI simply asked, “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?” Under this legislation, sales would be permitted to all adults 21 or older, regardless of tribal status.

A decision like this flies right in the face of people like US Rep. Chuck Edwards (R-NC), who openly spoke out against EBCI legalizing it on tribal lands, and vowed to block it. Naturally, EBCI Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed took this to heart, and he believed many others in the tribe did. Telling them what they will or will not do on tribal lands was a horrible decision before, and they won’t let that happen to their people again.

Doubling down on his word, Edwards introduced the “Stop Pot Act.” In this measure, 10% of federal transportation funding would be cut from tribal governments and US states that allow for legal recreational sales.

This ignorant decision spits in the face of decades of case precedent as well as in the face of our forefathers. These men declared the states’ rights were not to be invoked by the Federal government. While the federal government has kept marijuana a Schedule I drug (for the moment), they have allowed the states to now have decades of medicinal and now recreational sales. To overturn that would be a grave mistake, one that the people will not stand for.

Rob Pero, founder of the Indigenous Cannabis Industry Association (ICIA), supports the tribe fully in their endeavors. Speaking with Marijuana Moment via email, he said, “How EBCI has approached the referendum and determined their course of action is a great example of what sovereignty can look like when it’s done in a good way. This is just one small aspect of their government, but this is a powerful opportunity to showcase what that actually means for government-to-government relations in an emerging industry.”

Based on the 57,000-acre Qualla Boundary, the EBCI looks to produce millions of dollars in tribal profit per year in rapid time. Qualla Enterprises LLC, the tribal cannabis company, has projected $385 million in adult recreational sales in the first year, with over $800 million by year five. As the only place with medical marijuana, they have been running a monopoly and doing it damn well. When they opened their program to North Carolina residents this past June, they made roughly $205 million and are projecting $578 million by year five.

However, the $30 million in product they have already produced has been left in the balance due to lab testing and other regulations not being hammered out yet. With a state-owned and run highway between them and the lab, as well as a poorly executed non-tribal contract, they are not happy with their progress on the topic.

Their projections show that this would likely spread across North and South Carolina, Tennessee, and other southern states. Once their success is proven, they know other tribes will follow suit, and with their experience, they believe they are setting their tribes up at a distinct advantage.

The EBCI is right here, too.

As other states and territories play catch up with recreational marijuana, it’s time we as a GOP begin to lean into this. The days of reefer madness are over, and there is much to learn from this plant and each other about how it can impact our lives. From a massive increase in the stock market to a huge swing in real estate values. Marijuana will be the next place every American will hang their hat, it’s time we got our spot picked out.