Since 1996, Congress has shirked its responsibility to uphold the very laws it has passed regarding marijuana. 

More and more states are thumbing their proverbial noses at federal laws that declare pot as a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act. And Congress has sat idly by and watched it happen. 

In 2014, Congress took its gutless approach even further by enacting legislation that prevents the Department of Justice from using funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws, which have been passed every year since then.

This issue is about to hit very close to home in western North Carolina: On Sept. 7, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will vote on whether to legalize recreational marijuana for sale and use on its tribal lands.

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.

To allow our citizens to travel only a few miles to buy and use this common gateway drug — which the CDC and the New England Journal of Medicine have said can result in short- and long-term danger of addiction, altered brain development, chronic psychosis disorders, and others — would be irresponsible. And I intend to stop it. 

I have been particularly proud of my strong working relationship with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), including with Chief Richard Sneed and the tribal council. 

The cultural, economic, and community contributions the EBCI make to our area are significant and cannot be understated. 

I proudly consider the tribe my friends, and I respect their tribal sovereignty. But there are times when friends disagree, and I must do so regarding this question of legalizing recreational marijuana. The tribe’s rights should not infringe on the overall laws of our nation.

Congress cannot prevent the EBCI from proceeding with this harmful referendum. But I am appealing to tribal members to vote against it. 

During my time in the North Carolina Senate, I fought against legalizing marijuana in our state. As your congressman, I am taking this fight to Washington, DC. That’s why I’ll soon be introducing the Stop Pot Act.

It’s important that the tribe understands they will be voting on a measure that, if enacted, could soon be very costly, as the Stop Pot Act will defund governments that ignore federal law. I plan to move forward with this legislation regardless of the results of the tribal vote. 

If the tribal referendum passes, the Cherokee area will be the only place in North Carolina to buy legal recreational marijuana. People from all over the state and the surrounding areas will be driving to Cherokee and likely the EBCI’s other non-contiguous tribal lands to buy it, light up, and party.

It also means many would be leaving the reservation and hitting the road high. 

There is also the very real possibility of “drug tourism,” where bad actors will capitalize on the influx of partying travelers to WNC and offer other types of illicit, hard drugs for sale. An increase in general criminal activity would inevitably follow. 

This could strain our resources to a breaking point, as local law enforcement would stop enforcing marijuana laws, which is what we’ve observed in several US cities. 

The EBCI has land holdings all over WNC, not just in the Cherokee area. Given the shoot-first-ask-questions-later wording of the tribe’s question in the ballot, what would prevent enacting legislation that would allow marijuana dispensaries to open on tribal lands in Graham, Swain, and other WNC counties?

I look forward to a continued, fruitful relationship with the EBCI, but in instances like this, I will always speak out and represent the whole of our communities and our safety in WNC. 

It is my hope that cooler heads will prevail and this referendum will be defeated. The safety of our communities and our mountain way of life may depend on it.