By L.A. Williams, M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
April 22, 2022
While some North Carolinians wonder whether state lawmakers will take up the issue of medical marijuana during the short session starting next month, many on tribal lands have no doubt they’ll be able to legally buy the psychoactive drug at a local dispensary by early next year.
Last May, the tribal council of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians voted to decriminalize possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana. Then in August, they passed an ordinance detailing the process for licensing “medical cannabis establishments” and issuing “medical cannabis patient cards” to those who are at least 21 and have AIDS/HIV, anxiety disorder, autism spectrum disorder, autoimmune disease, anorexia nervosa, cancer, addiction to opioids, glaucoma, wasting disease, muscle spasms, seizures, nausea or severe chronic pain, PTSD, neuropathic conditions, or any other chronic or debilitating condition.
According to a recent article in the Raleigh News & Observer, Jeremy Wilson, a former tribal council member and a leader of the marijuana push, expects a dispensary could open as early as January. The article said that tribal members who live on the Qualla Boundary and have a patient card will even be able to grow up to 11 of their own marijuana plants at home as long as they aren’t maintaining more than 2.5 ounces of usable cannabis.
The Cherokee reservation is home to roughly 8,000 people in the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina. The cannabis patient cards would not be limited to tribal members only. Further, tribal leaders made it clear early on that their embracing of cannabis did not change North Carolina law or federal law.
“Everybody understands that if you go off-Boundary with it, it’s still illegal. We’re adults – we understand that,” Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed told the Cherokee One Feather newspaper back in August.
“We are sovereign, and if we’re going to be sovereign then we should act like that, exercise our sovereignty,” he added. “This is what our people are asking for.”
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said just because people are asking for something doesn’t mean it’s what’s best for them.
The Raleigh N&O said the Christian Action League “is influential in conservative politics statewide, and he [Creech] said he has been trying to hammer that message home even as GOP leaders seem to be getting more open to the idea. Creech said it’s hard for him to give credence to any positive reports from places that have had what he terms ‘so-called medical marijuana’ for only a few years.”
He cites a recent study performed at Massachusetts General Hospital showing that so-called medical marijuana fails to improve symptoms of pain, anxiety and depression, while increasing the risk that patients will develop a Cannabis addiction.
“It typically takes several years before the effect of a policy of this nature can actually be determined. As a lobbyist, I have explained this principle to lawmakers often as they argued in other matters where they loosened controls on vice and nothing bad seemingly happened right away. ‘Look,’ they say, ‘the world hasn’t fallen apart where this has been made legal.’ But the amount of studies on these matters, which are already available, are pointing to inevitable harms. So to me, these lawmakers who are proponents are like the man who jumped off the top of a high-rise building and on his way down cried out, ‘Look, I’m free. See, nothing bad has happened, everything is good.’ The harm, however, serious harms, are inevitable,” said Creech.
He added it’s only a matter of time before the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians regrets its decision, and he warns Tar Heel lawmakers not to follow suit as they entertain Senate Bill 711.
Labeled the Compassionate Care Act, the bill has cleared the Senate’s Judiciary, Finance and Health Care committees. If it passes in the full Senate, it will move on to the House.