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Eastern Band of Cherokee Decriminalizes Small Amounts Of Marijuana

Matt Bush
The Eastern Band of Cherokee tribal council voted 11-1 to decriminalize up to an ounce of marijuana on the Qualla Boundary.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee tribal council voted Thursday to decriminalize up to an ounce of marijuana on the Qualla Boundary. It is still illegal to sell or use the substance in public. It was incorrectly reported by other outlets that the Eastern Band legalized medical marijuana.

Joey Owle is Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources for the Eastern Band.  

“We are certainly moving toward a medical cannabis program and that’s been the intent of this effort,” said Owle. “I would say this is a true decriminalization action in that we have now removed those criminal liabilities for folks who are 21 years or old who may be caught in possession of cannabis up to an ounce.”

Owle has been part of the legalization effort on the boundary for about 6 years. He hopes to move forward with medical marijuana before the end of 2021.

EBCI governmental affairs liaison Jeremy Wilson submitted the decriminalization ordinance with Owle and Principal Chief Richard Sneed. Wilson has been working with Owle on legalization for a number of years. He is excited about the move forward.

“We’re going to build a medical marijuana industry. This was just that very first step to kind of kick it off,” said Wilson.

The changes to the drug code also included legalizing some marijuana paraphernalia, reported the Cherokee One Feather.

The tribal council voted 11-1 on the measure.  

The entire tribal council is up for election this year. The primary candidates for the election have been certified. Owle isn’t sure where new tribal council members will land on medical marijuana.

“I can’t project that far out. That’s something that I just quit doing,” said Owle.

The primary election is in June and the general election is in September.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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