Medical Cannabis takes another step toward legalization in Cherokee, North Carolina

UPDATE: Common Sense Cannabis tells NewsChannel 9 that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council has voted to allow Common Sense Cannabis to assist the tribe with drafting a medical cannabis law.


Marijuana could soon be legal on the Cherokee Indian Reservation just three hours from Chattanooga.

Leaders of the tribe recently passed a resolution to allow a study on how marijuana could be used on the reservation.

Some of the tribal land is in our viewing area in Cherokee County, North Carolina.

The study will look into whether or not they could use marijuana for medical purposes, with a written prescription, or for sale, in dispensaries, like we've seen in Western states like Colorado.

Cherokee, North Carolina is it's own sovereign nation.

Although it sits between other towns and cities, when you cross into the reservation you're no longer living under North Carolina's laws.

Last year, leaders in Washington decided to give tribes the same option to legalize marijuana that states have.

"When, what's been referred to as the cole memorandum was released by the department of justice in October of 2014, this really kickstarted the whole conversation," Joey Owle is a member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians and also an organizer of the group Common Sense Cannabis.

He presented the feasibility study to the tribal council in October.

"We're talking about a plant, cannabis, marijuana whether its' medical application or it's industrial hemp it's a plant," Owle said. "It has a variety of uses and we shouldn't be neglecting that."

"We as Cherokee people always used plants for medicine, so that's where we're playing into, is our culture," he said.

Mike Grant is a performer in downtown Cherokee.

"What I'm wanting to do here is actually transport people from 2015, when you sit here, you're going back: 1300's, 1400's," Grant said.

He teaches tourists about his reservation's history.

He agrees with Owle that natural healing is part of their culture, but he says that's never included marijuana use.

"I have tried it before and yeah it has it's attributes but how it's going to work with our younger ones stealing it from grandma and grandpa," he said.

A little over an hour away Cherokee County Sheriff Derrick Palmer says he's also concerned about the future of Western North Carolina if marijuana becomes legal.

Nearly 6,000 acres of tribal land sits in Cherokee County.

"Tribal property is a sovereign nation and therefore we technically do not have jurisdiction on tribal property," Sheriff Palmer said. "Here in North Carolina it's still illegal and we're going to try to enforce that on the highways and other places off of tribal property so logistically it's just going to be a nightmare for us."

Palmer says he's interviewed dozens of drug addicts who say their drug abuse started with marijuana.

"You hear people saying it's a gateway drug and there's a lot of truth to that," Palmer explained. "It's not necessarily that the drug itself will cause you to use other drugs, it just introduces kids to drugs."

While many agree with the sheriff, others think it could give Cherokee County and the reservation the economic boost it needs.

Elizabeth Pearce says she used to smoke marijuana.

"I'd say I'm for it, I'm so tired of seeing so many young people, especially in prison for something I don't consider to be a crime," Pearce said. "Using marijuana, I don't see as being any more dangerous than having a beer with your pizza."

For now, Common Sense Cannabis is working to bring someone in to conduct the study with a request for proposal, or "RFP", which will determine the interest, the possible outcomes and the practicality of adding cannabis to the law of the land.

"This RFP is going to hopefully answer the questions that our council has and our community members have and get some insight and some guidance onto where we can take this," Owle said.

He says they plan to have the proposal ready to bring before the council in March.

We reached out to tribal leaders, none were willing to speak with NewsChannel 9 about the study.

Common Sense Cannabis says the local paper in Cherokee did a study asking 250 tribal members if they would support marijuana use on any platform whether it's for medical or recreational use. 73 percent of members say they support the idea.

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