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Republican NC Congressman Threatens to ‘Defund’ Cherokee Tribe Over Cannabis Legalization Vote

Source: News & Observer

Republican U.S. Rep. Chuck Edwards is threatening to “defund” the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for their vote to legalize adult-use cannabis on their tribal lands, The News & Observer reported.

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Principal Chief Richard Sneed called the congressman’s comments “a major political blunder.”

Edwards recently filed his “Stop Pot Act,” a bill that calls for withholding 10% of what a government or tribe normally receives in annual federal highway funding for specific governments or tribes that allow recreational marijuana use and sales.

According to the congressman, the bill doesn’t target jurisdictions that permit the medical use of marijuana when a licensed medical professional prescribes it.

According to The News & Observer, Edwards wrote in an Aug. 17 editorial in the Cherokee One Feather newspaper that the Stop Pot Act “will defund governments that ignore federal law” surrounding marijuana sales and use.

“Here in our beloved mountains, we are already facing unprecedented crime, drug addiction and mental illness,” Edwards wrote. “I can’t stand by and condone even greater access to drugs to poison more folks in WNC, not to mention having even more impaired drivers on our roads.”

Edwards seems to conveniently ignore the fact that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is a sovereign self-governed nation as well as a federally-recognized tribe and he really doesn’t have a say over their affairs.

In a response letter published in Cherokee One Feather, Sneed said the congressman “has overstepped his authority.” He points out that Edwards is “a federal representative; a non-Indian, elected official telling a sovereign tribal nation how they ought to handle their business.”

Members of the tribe held a legalization vote on Sept. 7 where the referendum passed with nearly 70% of the vote.

If the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians go through with their legalization plans, their 57,000-acre Qualla Boundary in the North Carolina mountains would be the only place in the state where you could legally buy and smoke pot.

Tribal officials have already said they plan to open “the world’s largest medical cannabis dispensary superstore” later this year, The News & Observer reported.

Medical cannabis is already legal on Cherokee tribal lands – they have grown and cultivated the plant for months and months. A medical card is currently required to purchase cannabis there, but it’s expected that the referendum could lead to recreational marijuana sales that would not require a medical cannabis card.

The referendum states that adult use of cannabis would apply to anyone 21 and older – and no language in the referendum appears to limit adult use to tribal members, meaning that any North Carolinian 21+ could theoretically go to the tribe’s dispensary and purchase cannabis.

That is another one of Edwards’ concerns – “people from all over the state and the surrounding areas will be driving to Cherokee … to buy it, light up and party,” he wrote in his op-ed.

He also highlighted the fact that the tribe has other land in the western part of our state, which brings up the question of whether those areas could also legalize cannabis.

“[W]hat would prevent enacting legislation that would allow marijuana dispensaries to open on tribal lands in Graham, Swain, and other WNC counties?” he asked.

In an editorial responding to Edwards, the Democratic Party Chairs for Swain, Cherokee, Jackson and Transylvania counties called his actions “patronizing and coercive” and said, “Rep. Edwards offers false friendship” because “… A real friend would know the United States of America owes a debt to the Cherokee, and making good on that debt is not dependent on disagreements over marijuana policy.”


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