By ROBERT JUMPER
A pen editor
“The buying and selling of drugs in this country is perhaps the last vestige of free enterprise.” – “Up in Smoke” (1978)
We are a Tribe in cultural and economic transition. We have been, for good, since the late 1990s, when our first casino opened in the same location as our current, new youth center is today. Since the beginning of adult gaming (not bingo, but the one you play in Las Vegas) on the Qualla frontier, life for the Cherokee has changed a lot. Going from a double-digit multi-million dollar economy to a triple-digit multi-million dollar economy, on an annual basis, must bring some freedom and change to a community.
And reading the story, for many it was an unwelcome change. The decision to become a casino operator was painful for our community. Traditionalists saw the potential to lose long-honored values. They feared for future generations and what it would be like to be Cherokee in the future, or if there would even be a remnant of the culture they had known for decades and had been passed down for thousands of years. .
The tribal election that followed the decision to join other tribes in taking advantage of federally enacted adult gaming opportunities was tumultuous to say the least. The entire executive office and almost all of the seated tribal council members lost their seats, along with the tribe’s chief advocate and, in a report I read, the editor of One Feather. This is one of the reasons why I personally don’t like to take sides and I strive to ensure that One Feather is as impartial as possible on issues. Not only is it the ethical thing to do, but it’s also the safest. It is much more important that the voice of the community be heard than for me to be a lobbyist.
Even with all the “improvements” we’ve seen as a result of the influx of dollars, there are still those who will say that we gave up something more valuable than money to transition our community to an economy. casino.
In “Cherokee Americans” (University of Nebraska Press 1991), author John Finger states, “The identity of the Eastern band varies widely depending on the groups or individuals involved. Benefits derived from federal attachment and particularly tourism will likely support at least a widespread Cherokee identity for the immediate future. But the larger reality is that virtually all tribal members understand that their identity is encompassed within a national context. The 20th century has sometimes brought painful rapprochements between them and the American government. They value their citizenship and the opportunities of modern America. Like their (non-Native) neighbors, they shamelessly lobby their congressmen and senators, vote in their own interests, and accept numerous federal benefits. In return, they offer allegiance and present themselves as modern-day warriors willing to defend – and perhaps die for – American institutions. They endured the shifting currents of Indian politics, adjusted where necessary, argued among themselves, survived, and in the end called themselves both Cherokees and Americans.
It is this relationship between the Eastern Band and the federal government that makes our foray into cannabis as a cash crop so interesting. I was once told that I was trying to sound smarter than me, so here’s my disclaimer: I’m no expert on the legality of weed as a tribal revenue source. But here is some information that I know. The tribe recently enacted a law that makes it legal to possess 1.5 ounces of marijuana on the Qualla border. This was done, according to the video recording of the Tribal Council session, to facilitate the development of additional legislation with the ultimate goal of allowing the tribe to enter the cannabis business as a marijuana supplier. medical. During the session, the Tribal Council posed the tough questions about the intent of these activists who promote the tribal adoption of cannabis as a cash crop, for medicinal purposes, of course. The Council was assured that this measure was only intended to make medical cannabis cards accessible to those who would be prescribed by a doctor. The effect, however, was to eliminate any opportunity for law enforcement to inquire about intent to possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana. Thus, the Council, by enacting legislation to facilitate obtaining medical use, has also facilitated recreational use.
What about these interstate and interfederal relations? Regarding North Carolina law (from abeoutbailbonding.com), “Is weed legal in North Carolina? No, and the answer won’t change anytime soon. Even though it seems like new states are legalizing recreational marijuana every year, it doesn’t look like North Carolina will be one of them anytime soon. Indeed, North Carolina state law prohibits residents from putting questions on the ballot by collecting signatures on petitions. This means that it is up to lawmakers and not the general public to decide what appears and does not appear on the ballot. So people aren’t particularly optimistic about the upcoming legalization of weed in North Carolina.
So on the border you would be legal, off the border not so much.
What if you’re in Tennessee and want to pop into Cherokee land for some cannabis, then go home? “Possession of half an ounce of marijuana or less is a misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail and a maximum fine of $2,500. A $250 fine is required for any first conviction. A subsequent offense results in a mandatory minimum fine of $500.(norml.org)
Maybe Georgia? “Possession of one ounce or less of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of up to 12 months and/or a fine of up to $1,000, or public works up to 12 months. Possession of more than one ounce is a felony punishable by a minimum of one year and a maximum of ten years’ imprisonment” (norml.org).
Well, how about South Carolina, the last bordering state on the border? “Possession of one ounce or less is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $100 to $200. Conditional release based on participation in the pre-trial intervention program may be granted. A subsequent conviction for possession of 1 ounce or less is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a maximum fine of $2,000. (norml.org)
So, I checked for federal passes or penalties for possession of marijuana. “Possession of marijuana is punishable by up to one year in prison and a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first conviction. For a second conviction, penalties increase to a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 days with a maximum of two years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500. Subsequent convictions carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 90 days and a maximum of three years in prison and a fine of $5,000. (norml.org) Additional note: Federal law, according to norml.org, does not distinguish between medical and recreational marijuana.
At the August 2021 session of the Tribal Council, the tribe decided to begin the process of establishing medical marijuana as a cash crop or supplemental revenue source. A Cannabis Control Board has been established to set policy and carry out the production and development mission. During the June 2022 Tribal Council session, questions were raised about the status of the plants themselves; how is the harvest? Council immediately met behind closed doors, citing that listening ears and watching eyes might be there wanting to know how big our marijuana plants were. I guess there is some validity to that. We may compete with other entities for the services of a medical marijuana establishment. But the justifications went more in this direction. The rulings, at least those that have been publicly aired, were more about profit than compassionate care for those in need of medical marijuana. It looks like we as members of the community aren’t going to know much about what’s going on with cannabis for some time. And I’m not sure we should agree with that.
For example, would you like the cannabis growing or processing operation to be near an establishment where the children go regularly? That would never happen, you say? Keep in mind that 10 or 20 years ago the idea of booze being legal on the frontier was an idea that would have been laughed at, especially if you told the tribesmen that it would be put next to a church. Now we have an ABC store across from a downtown Baptist church. With the limited land mass we have to work with, I bet no plan is “off the table”. We don’t know where it is grown if it is grown. We don’t know how long it has been grown and how big our harvest is. We really don’t know much about it, except that more than half a million dollars are on the table to pay for a cannabis council’s annual salary and facilitate operations. At least for now, all we’re going to hear is “it’s going to be awesome, trust me”.
Again, I’m no expert in this area, and I’m guessing neither are you. I have never used marijuana. Guess I drank the Kool-Aid back when schools were showing “Reefer Madness” and similar educational movies, showing teenagers losing control and causing havoc after throwing marijuana parties. After watching these movies, I used to get nervous right next to weed seeds, let alone a joint.
I am not pointing the finger at cannabis or passing judgment. That may be as great for the tribe as we hear it. But all I can do is hope so. Because we are using our normal level of transparency on this project, which is, in my opinion, little to none.