EBCI reverses stance on ‘hemp shops’

Robert Mark “Bertie” Saunooke address Tribal Council following the vote to approve his amendment to the adult marijuana use ordinance. EBCI Communications Facebook photo Robert Mark “Bertie” Saunooke address Tribal Council following the vote to approve his amendment to the adult marijuana use ordinance. EBCI Communications Facebook photo

EBCI Tribal Council has reversed its decision to ban “hemp shops” not “wholly owned by the tribe … or one of its wholly owned subsidiaries.”

Any enrolled member of the tribe has 10 days following the passage of an ordinance to submit a protest. In this case, that protest was submitted by Robert Mark “Bertie” Saunooke, who owns two hemp shops in Cherokee.

On June 6, Tribal Council passed the long-awaited ordinance that legalizes the sale of and use of marijuana by any adult over the age of 21 on tribal land. That vote came after a vote last year that saw enrolled members vote overwhelming in favor of that legalization. During that time, Tribal Council also passed two floor amendments that were added to the ordinance — one restricting hemp shops and one allowing medical marijuana card holders who meet certain criteria to grow up to four plants at home.  

At the June 6 meeting, Saunooke spoke in opposition to the portion of the ordinance that would have shut down his businesses.  Much of what was written in his protest — which was read aloud at the meeting — reflected his prior concerns.

“If my stores are closed, I’ll have great adverse financial consequences,” he wrote, noting that he would have to lay off employees, cancel contracts, figure out what to do with unused inventory and be unable to afford rent for his retail spaces.

Along with filing the protest, Saunooke also put forward his own amendment to the adult-use ordinance that was heard during the June 27 protest hearing, that allowed for privately owned hemp shops to stay open as long as they are regulated by the tribe’s Cannabis Control Board. During the June 6 meeting, Rep. Michael Stamper (Painttown) was among the most vocal supporters of the floor amendment to ban the hemp shops, citing their lack of regulation.

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“[Saunooke’s amendment] speaks to what I was trying to get at, which was the regulatory element of these hemp stores,” he said June 27.

While the hemp shop issue was handled in a way that seemed satisfactory for almost everyone, the floor amendment to allow medical patients to grow their own marijuana was taken out of the ordinance, and the decision was made to wait to address it, meaning no one under any circumstance is permitted by tribal law to grow their own. EBCI Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources Joey Owle voiced his opposition to that decision in front of Tribal Council.

“That cuts most folks out from being able to grow their own medicine,” he said.

However, EBCI Attorney General Mike McConnell recommended that Tribal Council leave that element out of the ordinance now and address it later, if desired. While Owle made the point that enrolled members voted “overwhelmingly” to legalize adult use, McConnell noted that the vote had to do with the tribe regulating the marijuana market.

“The vote, and I’m talking about the referendum vote back in September, said nothing about growing marijuana in your home,” McConnell said. “From the AG’s perspective, we prefer that, at this time, the Tribe not allow home-grow. I’m coming to that issue from a regulatory and enforcement angle. I’m not making any statement about whether its good for a person or not good for a person.”

Following those discussion, Tribal Council ratified the adult use ordinance as amended.

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