Michell Hicks, chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, will allow a controversial vote to go forward next April on whether to legalize alcohol sales on the reservation.
“At this point, I just feel strongly that it’s the people decision,” Hicks said. “It’s an issue for the people to vote on.”
Cherokee is currently dry, with no beer, wine or liquor sold in restaurants or convenience stores — with the exception of Harrah’s Casino. Tribal council last month voted to hold a referendum that would give all tribal members a chance to vote on legalizing alcohol sales.
The chief had until Wednesday to decide whether to veto tribal council’s decision. He spent the full 30-day time limit praying about it, he said.
Hicks said he wants the tribe to control how and where alcohol is distributed on the reservation, as well as benefit revenue-wise from its sales.
Hicks is okay with restaurants selling alcohol but doesn’t want to see beer and wine turning up on the shelves of gas stations and package stores cropping up across the reservation.
Instead, Hicks wants the tribe to be the sole proprietor of alcohol sales to the public. Liquor sales both to the public and restaurants would be handled through a tribally owned and operated ABC store, as is the norm for anywhere in North Carolina.
Hicks would like beer and wine to be handled the same way. He does not want beer and wine to be sold in gas stations and grocery stores, saying that is “something I won’t support.” Instead, he wants the sale of beer, wine and liquor limited to tribal ABC stores.
Hicks is not advocating for the alcohol vote to pass, but if it does, he wants the tribe to control the sale of alcohol for two reasons. One is to keep gas stations peddling booze off every corner of the reservation, citing that he doesn’t “think it’s healthy.”
Confining sales to a tribally run store would keep alcohol from cropping up on rural areas of the reservation as well, like the Snowbird community in the remote mountainous reaches of Graham County.
The other reason is financial. Cherokee would reap the profits from selling the alcohol.
The revenue from alcohol sales “could be substantial,” Hicks said.
Many local businesses support the referendum, saying alcohol will boost their bottom line and keep tourists who might other leave the reservation in search of alcohol in Cherokee.
However, many in Cherokee are strong Christians and have a long history of alcoholism and diabetes, making many inclined to oppose such a referendum.
The Eastern Band has shot down similar measures in the past — and even halted some cries for alcohol on the reservation before a vote could take place.
The referendum passed tribal council in late October, with nine of 12 representatives voting for it. Two council members wanted to table the resolution, and the remaining member was not present.
Members of the Eastern Band are expected to vote on the referendum in April and can approve all, none, or one or two of the following:
• To permit a tribal ABC store to sell liquor to the public.
• To permit the sale of beer, wine and liquor drinks only in restaurants licensed by the Eastern Band.
• To permit the sale of beer and wine only in grocery stores and convenience stores licensed by the Eastern Band.