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Rep. Edwards needs to butt out of tribal affairs

Rep. Chuck Edwards Rep. Chuck Edwards

When the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians overwhelmingly approved a measure to get into the recreational marijuana business last week, it set up a showdown of sorts with Rep. Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson) that could have far-reaching negative ramifications for the tribe. 


Edwards, a few weeks prior to when the referendum was held in Cherokee, published a piece in the Carolina Journal — a well-respected conservative media organization — in which he criticized the actions of the tribe:

“Here in our beloved mountains, we are already facing unprecedented crime, drug addiction, and mental illness. I can’t stand by and condone even greater access to drugs to poison more folks in WNC, not to mention having even more impaired drivers on our roads,” Edwards wrote.

So, Edwards, quite obviously, doesn’t condone the use of cannabis. But this fight has already been lost. Recreational pot is legal is more than 26 states and more are expected to approve such measures over the next few years. There are many medical and mental health professionals who do not agree with Edwards’ views on recreational and medical use of cannabis.

But the problem isn’t what Edwards thinks about cannabis. The issue for Western North Carolina and the tribe is that he wants to punish those who hold views different from him. Edwards took the initiative to introduce the “Stop Pot Act,” which would withhold 10% of federal highway funds from states and tribes that approve recreational marijuana use. Really? Basically, Edwards has taken it upon himself to introduce and try to garner support for a measure that would punish other states and the Native Americans in his own district. 

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At the time Edwards was promoting his bill — right before the referendum — then Chief Richard Sneed called out the representative: “In my estimation,  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.”

I agree with Sneed. There is a long history of non-Natives holding a kind of paternalistic moral superiority toward Native American tribes. For the most part on a whole slew of issues, that did not work out very well for tribal members. Edwards should butt out and let the tribe run its businesses the way it sees fit.

Would it surprise Edwards to know that many ECBI members don’t approve of gambling but see it as a means to a higher end, using those profits to preserve their language, to improve educational outcomes, to improve housing conditions for members, to provide better health care? 

Many don’t want to work in the casinos but would consider a job growing cannabis and working in an agricultural setting a much more enriching career. This enterprise is going to create as many as 500 good jobs in Cherokee. That’s an economic benefit that will do good things for the tribe and will also have spillover benefits for all of Western North Carolina.

Let’s hope Edwards’ Stop Pot Act falls flat and that in the future he looks for ways to support the EBCI.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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