The Eastern Band Is Working To Legalize Medical Marijuana – BPR / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Reporter Lilly Knoepp talks with the co-chairs of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian’s Cannabis Commission, Secretary of Agriculture Joey Owle and Governmental Affairs Liaison Jeremy Wilson, to discuss sovereignty, hemp and the long road to marijuana legalization.

Last week, a North Carolina task force commissioned by Governor Roy Cooper recommended small amounts of marijuana be decriminalized.  It also says legalization should be studied. On the Qualla Boundary, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is already moving forward to legalize medical marijuana. 

At the end of last month, the tribal council moved forward with its own plan to bring medical marijuana to Western North Carolina. Secretary of Agriculture, Joey Owle has been working at legalize marijuana since 2015.

“I mean, we’ve come a long way since 2015 when it was just a small advocacy group,” said Owle.

Since then, the attitudes toward marijuana have really changed, says Owle. Six mores states legalized some form of marijuana on Election Day this month. North Carolina seems slow to join that movement but this doesn’t matter for the Eastern Band. As a sovereign nation, they have their own laws. 

Owle says that talking with a member of the Paiutes in Nevada who have a recreational marijuana dispensary and tasting room really changed the way he thought about sovereignty. 

“Every time we discuss having medical or recreational cannabis on our tribal land someone brings up, ‘Well, you know, the feds are going to come after us and we’re going to lose funding resources.’ And he says, ‘Isn’t it all federal land?,’” said Owle.

If states can legalize marijuana than there is nothing stopping Native American nations, explains Owle. In 2016, the Supreme Court upheld Colorado’s right to legalize marijuana after neighboring Nebraska and Oklahoma said it was causing them harm.

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