“Landscapes are changing, and the Cherokee Nation needed to modernize its HR policies to reflect those changes,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. in a January 15 press release. The communication was meant to inform the public that Hoskin’s tribal association would be leaving space for its employees to undergo medicinal cannabis treatment. No longer will the group’s 4,000 workers in its Talequah, Oklahoma government offices need to fear the results of on the job testing — or exams administered during the employment application process — for THC.
“I am pleased to announce this change in policy, and I am committed to ensuring that we support all valid (physician-supported treatments),” Hoskin continued.
Due to tribal sovereignty regulations, Native governments set their own laws when it comes to cannabis and marijuana production, consumption, and distribution. When Oklahoma legalized medicinal cannabis in 2018, Cherokee Nation officials made it clear that the drug would not enjoy a similar recognition on their land.
Many Native governments have resisted the call to regulate cannabis, holding that legalizing the drug would only worsen grave addiction problems that already exist within Native communities.
But the relationship between cannabis usage and other drug addictions requires more study — some investigations even point to the drug’s utility in busting dependence to other substances.
Across the country, some tribal governments have found the opportunity to diversify their revenue streams with the addition of cannabis enterprise too good to pass up. Many have made the decision to allow cannabis within their communities. Michigan’s Bay Mills Indian Community. New Mexico’s Acoma Pueblo Tribe, Nevada’s Paiute, Washington’s Puyallup Tribe, and Oregon’s Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs are among the groups that have already entered the cannabis industry in one form or another.
Elsewhere, tribes have made early steps into getting involved themselves in the cannabis industry, only to be faced with the untenable request that they “submit a written waiver of sovereign immunity” in order to be licensed by state regulatory agencies, as in California. The USDA recently approved an application from the Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians to cultivate hemp on its reservation.
Washington, Oregon, and Nevada governments have passed regulations that allow tribes to forgo the invasive requirement of ceding sovereignty for cannabis industry participation.
Cannabis and Cherokee Nation
It remains illegal to consume or possess cannabis on Cherokee Nation land. But the HR decision to stop penalizing workers for medical THC consumption comes at a time when the organization is otherwise reconsidering its relationship to the drug.
Yesterday, Hoskin announced that the tribal government would be forming a seven member workgroup tasked with examining the tribes’ involvement with cannabis commerce, health care and agriculture.
“I believe there are opportunities for Cherokee Nation, our businesses and our citizens to benefit from this emerging industry,” said Hoskin in a press statement. “But, we need to move forward carefully and responsibly and in absolute strict adherence to the law in order to ensure success and sustainability.”
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has gone even further, and despite healthy debate over the matter among tribal leaders, has announced its intentions to apply for a hemp business license from the USDA.