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A Republican Congressman from North Carolina introduced a bill last week that, if passed, would withhold federal funds from tribes that legalize recreational marijuana on their lands. 
 

On Friday, North Carolina Congressman Chuck Edwards (R-NC) introduced the “Stop Pot Act.”

“The laws of any government should not infringe on the overall laws of our nation, and federal funds should not be awarded to jurisdictions that willfully ignore federal law,” Edwards said in a press release on September 1. “During a time when our communities are seeing unprecedented crime, drug addiction, and mental illness, the Stop Pot Act will help prevent even greater access to drugs and ease the strain placed on our local law enforcement and mental health professionals who are already stretched thin.”

Tomorrow, September 7, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) will vote on legalizing adult-use cannabis on their lands in North Carolina. If the Cherokee measure to legalize adult-use marijuana passes, it would be the only place in the state where people could legally possess and ingest recreational marijuana. The bill wouldn’t apply to jurisdictions that authorize medical use of marijuana when prescribed by a licensed medical professional, though. 

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The bill proposes withholding 10% of funding from state or federally-recognized tribes that would normally receive annual federal highway funding and would apply to governments and tribes that permit marijuana use and sales.

According to Edwards’ website, the Christian Action League and Smart Approaches to Marijuana Action support the bill.

The EBCI already has plans to open the largest medical cannabis dispensary store in the world. 

 “It will be the largest retail center in the world the day we open,” Forrest Parker told the Cherokee One Feather last November.  

When fully operational, the EBCI said that its dispensary will provide up to 500 jobs and will place the tribe in a unique position. 

In an opinion piece for the Cherokee One Feather on August 17, Edwards wrote, “I proudly consider the tribe my friends, and I respect their tribal sovereignty. But there are times when friends disagree, and I must do so regarding this question of legalizing recreational marijuana. The tribe’s rights should not infringe on the overall laws of our nation. Congress cannot prevent the EBCI from proceeding with this harmful referendum. But I am appealing to tribal members to vote against it.”

EBCI Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed responded to Edward's opinion piece on August 31 and wrote: “Rep. Edwards has overstepped his authority and has made a major political blunder as a federal Representative; a non-Indian, elected official telling a sovereign tribal nation how they ought to handle their business.”

In a report published in 2020, North Carolina’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice revealed that the state’s ban on cannabis was used to discriminate against and incarcerate people of color. 

Mary Jane Oatman, Executive Director of the Indigenous Cannabis Industry Association (ICIA), told Native News Online that the Stop Pot Act is an infringement on tribal sovereignty and underscores the need for Indian Country to come together around cannabis. 

“The Eastern Band of Cherokee have the right to determine what works best for their community, including for Cannabis Policy reform,” Oatman said. “Tribal sovereignty encompasses a broad range when it comes to cannabis from serving as an economic driver to a health equalizer. 

“The ICIA has reached out in solidarity to the Eastern Band of Cherokee leadership and support their push back against any attacks on tribal sovereignty and the rights to self-determination such as the Stop Pot Actions such as this also validate the need for Indian Country to be more organized and proactive.”

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About The Author
Author: Darren ThompsonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Darren Thompson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe) is a staff reporter for Native News Online who is based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Thompson has reported on political unrest, tribal sovereignty, and Indigenous issues for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Indian Country Today, Native News Online, Powwows.com and Unicorn Riot. He has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Voice of America on various Indigenous issues in international conversation. He has a bachelor’s degree in Criminology & Law Studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.