Cherokee Chief Lambert doesn’t want to know the truth about cannabis.

Chief Lambert won't listen to the facts about cannabis.
Chief Lambert won’t listen to the facts about cannabis.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council passed Res. No. 40 (2015) unanimously during Annual Council on Thursday, Oct. 29. This historic resolution called for a feasibility study to look into the “issues and impacts associated with legalization of cannabis.” Historic? Yes. Controversial? No. Well, at least it shouldn’t be.

Based on my review of the study and my conversations with Joey Owle, a member of Common Sense Cannabis, the group that proposed the resolution, the study was to evaluate the  possibility of implementing a medical cannabis regime on the Cherokee reservation and the impacts it would have on the Tribe. Given the surge of new information about the medical benefits of cannabis the study was, if anything, a conservative approach to a rapidly developing legalization movement. Principal Chief Patrick Lambert recently disagreed, saying the following in support of his veto letter to Tribal Council Chairman Bill Taylor:

Patrick Lambert, Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Patrick Lambert, Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

“I have stated my opposition to the recreational use of drugs many times, and this includes marijuana. At a critical time in our Tribe’s history in dealing with all the human misery associated with illegal recreational use of drugs, I cannot in good conscience sign this legislation. There are some drugs that do have good and solid medicinal uses, but when done for recreation often leads to severe addiction and misery for the user, the family of the user and the larger community.”

What is he talking about??? First of all, the resolution doesn’t legalize cannabis. It was to be a study. I think a good rule of thumb is that when a politician vetoes a proposed study s/he’s either impervious to facts or in bed with a donor group who opposes whatever it is that is to be studied. I don’t know which is the case with Lambert. He’s a law school graduate and presumably a reasonably intelligent person. He’s also well connected to the gaming industry, having served as the executive director of the tribe’s gaming commission for 22 years immediately preceding his recent election to Chief.

Secondly, based on my communications with Owle and others in the Tribe, the study was primarily to be focused on medical cannabis, not recreational sales. Chief Lambert focused his comments solely on recreational cannabis. I’m not opposed to so-called “recreational” use (I personally think that all cannabis use has medical benefits, regardless of whether that is the intended effect or not), but I realize that the public at large is not fully on board with it, particularly in the conservative South. But a majority of Americans, including Southerners, favor medical cannabis. And Native Americans have a long history of treating disease naturally with plants and herbs. Medical cannabis should be a “no-brainer” for the Tribe. Common Sense Cannabis says:

“In Chief Lambert’s veto letter, he solely focuses on the ‘recreational’ marijuana, in which we call personal use. He cites recreational drug use as the problem in our community. While he is right about drug use as a problem, it does not stem from cannabis use. The problem lies with legal prescription pills and other synthetics, such as meth and heroin.”

Finally, Lambert goes against the clear will of his people. The Council voted unanimously in favor of the study. Yet he vetoed it. Good leaders listen to their constituents. Lambert won’t listen to his people or to the facts. It’s a shame.

Rod Kight is a lawyer based in Asheville, NC. He is licensed in North Carolina and Oregon and represents legal cannabis businesses. You can contact him by clicking here.

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