Changing the law
By Michael Kinney
Like many people across the country, Cheri Cowan sees the federal laws concerning marijuana as antiquated. As a 31-year-old single mother in Norman who makes her living in Oklahoma’s cannabis industry, she watched her home state thrive when medical marijuana became legal in 2018.
Cowan said she wants to see that same type of access across the country with the changing of federal laws that look at marijuana as an illegal drug. But she doesn’t want to see them change just because it would be a boom for her industry. It is also because it may be the only way she can regain custody of her 5-year-old daughter Arrow Iyah’s Cowan.
Cowan hasn’t seen her daughter since April and is separated by more than 1,000 miles.
However, Cowan, a member of the Choctaw Nation, knows that in order to bring her daughter back home to Oklahoma she may have to force the third-largest Indian Nation in the United States to change its stance on marijuana.
“The custody case once finished will set a precedent in the Choctaw Nation court system meaning it will allow them to use my case in case studies,” Cowan said. “I have spent countless hours lobbying the Choctaw Tribal members including speaking at their monthly board meeting held in Talihina at the Choctaw headquarters.”
Cowan and her ex-husband, Roy Wesley Cowan, are involved in what appears to be a bitter custody battle over their daughter, Arrow. According to court reports and records from the Department of Human Services, both parents have made accusations against the other since they divorced.
However, that is not the story we’re here to tell. Divorces and custody battles can be messy, ugly and full of accusations that cannot always be corroborated.
Yet, it is one of those accusations that has led to Cheri Cowan having primary custody of Arrow taken away and has her wanting to overhaul federal drug laws.
“My end goal, aside from federal legalization, is to ensure that no mother or child or parent has to through what I have been through,” Cowan said. “These last six months have been a nightmare. I am a mess. And it’s because of my child, I don’t know where she is. Right now, at this moment, I couldn’t tell you where my daughter is. That is a flaw in our justice system.”
Along with being a courier for RockinT Cultivation, Cowan holds a portion of the processing license for Dunder Mifflin LLC and DBA 77 Extracts. She is also the company’s compliance officer.
Cowan said she has a license for her work and has a state medical marijuana card.
Up until the first week of 2021, Cheri Cowan held primary custody over Arrow. Her ex-husband had limited visitation rights. But that did include certain holidays, such as Christmas.
“Around Christmas time I let my ex-husband have his Christmas visitation,” Cheri Cowan said. “He ran an exposure follicle test on her and it tested positive. It tested positive for THC (0.8 pg/mg).”
According to court reports, Roy Cowan, who is currently living in Florida, had the test taken because of photos he saw on Cheri’s social media accounts that showed Arrow in the vicinity of marijuana.
However, Cheri Cowan contends she doesn’t smoke around her daughter and keeps her products locked away.
“There are over 3,000 active grows in the state of Oklahoma. My argument is she simply could of have gotten exposed simply by being in Oklahoma,” Cheri Cowan said. “My main job is compliance. I am not smoking around my child. I have all of my medication stored in a lockbox. I really don’t know, other than being around the groves, how she was exposed to it. But that is legal in Oklahoma. I brought that to the nation’s attention.”
Despite her argument, on Jan. 4, Roy Cowan was awarded temporary custody of Arrow through the Choctaw Nation’s court system. Cheri Cowan believes it’s because she works in the cannabis industry.
“That’s my fault. This is all because I thought my people would protect their people,” Cheri Cowan said. I thought whenever med passed it medicinally, the nation would jump on it because it’s beneficial for their people. We are a holistic culture. I don’t understand why this isn’t more pressing and at the forefront of their lives as the right thing to do.”
According to Cowan, if she had gone through the state of Oklahoma courts with her custody battle, she wouldn’t be in the position right now of having to fight to get her daughter back. Because Oklahoma is one of 19 states (including Washington, D.C., and Guam) that have legalized marijuana in some form, the claims her ex-husband made would not have been enough to take her daughter away.
Cowan’s battle to regain custody of her daughter coincides with a new push for the federal government to legalize marijuana. New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, recently offered draft legislation to remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances and begin regulating and taxing it.
Under the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, businesses and individuals in states that have legalized its use would be free for the first time to sell and consume without the risk of federal punishment.
“It’s not just an idea whose time has come; it’s long overdue,” Schumer said at a press conference July 14. “We have all seen the agony of a young person arrested with a small amount of marijuana in his or her pocket. And because of the historical over-criminalization of marijuana, they have a very severe criminal record they have to live with their whole lives.”
Cowan believes it will take legislation like Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act to remove the stigma nationwide that is often associated with the cannabis industry across the country and on tribal lands.
However, the Choctaw Nation has recently started to address its laws concerning marijuana.
In April, the Choctaw Nation Tribal Council held a Special Session and voted to amend its Public Health and Safety Code to temporarily recognize medical marijuana. Before the vote, Choctaw nation members in possession of a valid state medical marijuana license, within the Choctaw Nation reservation, could have been arrested and charged for marijuana-related offenses in tribal court.
This ruling is only in effect until Nov. 13, when it will be repealed and the Choctaw Nation Tribal Council adopts other legislation.
In a release, the Choctaw Nation stated, “Tribal Council indicated that their intent is to research this issue further and propose better rules and regulations concerning medical marijuana for Native Americans within the Choctaw Nation reservation that minimize misuse of medical marijuana.”
Cowan said this move is a giant step forward for the Choctaw Nation.
“This is a huge milestone as patients who live in native housing were not allowed to consume their prescribed medications on tribal land in housing provided by the nation,” Cowan said. “Members of the tribe, such as myself, have been stripped of their rights due to the fact of the Nation’s hands being tied. We are a sovereign nation within a nation only allowed to operate within the (parameters) set forth by the federal government.”
Unfortunately for Cowan, none of this affects her custody case. The last time she appeared in court was March 22. At that time, Judge Mark Morrison with the District Court for the Choctaw Nation, ordered Arrow can stay with her father.
Yet, Cowan’s case is still alive.
“They are supposed to give me a decision on whether or not I regain my custody or I lose my custody,” Cowan said. “But I don’t know they can take my custody when they are currently infringing upon my civil liberties as a patient. That is my main argument. How is it that the state of Oklahoma can allow me to do
all these things and the Choctaw Nation not? So my attempt is that the Choctaw nation needs to be at the forefront of federal legislation being passed. My court case can set a prece