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North Carolina Cherokee Tribe Will Sell Medical Marijuana

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians maintains a sovereign nation in North Carolina; the tribe plans a dispensary


Medical marijuana was legalized on Cherokee land in western North Carolina back in May. And now the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has announced it will actually sell the herb to non-tribe members.

The move comes after six years of debate among the tribe, reports The One Feather.

The Cherokee maintain a sovereign nation in Western North Carolina known as the Qualla Boundary, reports the Winston-Salem Journal. The move establishes the first location in North Carolina where medical marijuana is both legal and for sale, reports WFMY News 2.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council approved an ordinance on August 5 to legalize the cultivation, sale, and usage of medical marijuana on the Qualla Boundary. The boundary is about 45 miles west of Asheville, N.C.

The Cherokee haven’t announced a timeline for their medical cannabis program — when cultivation will begin, or when marijuana will become available for purchase, reports The Charlotte Observer.

‘A Testament to the Changing Attitudes’

Richard Sneed, Principal Chief, released a statement following the decision. “The Council’s approval of a medical marijuana ordinance is a testament to the changing attitudes toward legal marijuana and a recognition of the growing body of evidence that supports cannabis as medicine,” Sneed said. The chief said this is “particularly for those with debilitating conditions like cancer and chronic pain.”

The tribe said it will form a Cannabis Control Board that will be in charge of licensing all cultivation, processing, dispensary and laboratory locations. 

To be eligible to buy medical Cannabis, the tribe said people over age 21 with medical needs can apply for and receive a medical marijuana card from the tribe’s Cannabis Control Board.

The Control Board also would accept a medical marijuana card a patient obtained from a state or tribe where medical marijuana is legal, according to Wilson, reports The Charlotte Observer.

The purchase limit is one ounce of medical cannabis per day and no more than six ounces per month. There’s a limit of 2,500 mg of THC in medical cannabis products per day, not to exceed 10,000 mg of THC per month.

‘A Solution Towards The Fight Against Opioids’

Following passage, EBCI governmental liaison Jeremy Wilson, a former Tribal Council representative who worked on the Cannabis issue while in office, had some remarks to One Feather.

“Today’s decision by Tribal Council to pass medical marijuana showcases the progression of leadership and forward vision thinking,” Wilson said. “I want to sincerely showcase my appreciation for Council for their support and putting the Tribe on a pathway towards real economic diversification, but also finally providing a solution towards the fight against opioids and giving our people relief without worry of severe side effects or addictions.”

“Also a sincere thank you to Chief Sneed for believing in us, and being a level of support in this effort,” Wilson said. “Joey [Owle] and I dedicated ourselves to see this through because we understood the opportunity for our tribe and people. We understand the amount of responsibility this will take to ensure this is done effectively and efficiently. Just as we dedicated to make it happen, we will equally dedicate to make it work.”

Chief Sneed: ‘We Are Sovereign’

The legislation details the process for licensing “medical cannabis establishments” as well as “medical cannabis establishment agents.”  It also establishes detailed regulations for issuing “medical cannabis patient cards” to adults 21 years old or older who qualify for the program.

During debate on the issue on Thursday, Chief Sneed called it a “compassion-care issue” and added, “We are sovereign, and if we’re going to be sovereign then we should act like that, exercise our sovereignty. This is what our people are asking for.”

The chief did comment on the legality of the program, saying tribal members will understand the limitations.  “Everybody understands that if you go off-Boundary with it, it’s still illegal.  We’re adults – we understand that.”

Rep. Albert Rose made the motion to pass the ordinance stating the legislation was “overloaded” with regulations on purpose so that the industry would run smoothly within the Tribe.  “It’s not just going to be another revenue-generator for us.  It’s going to help our enrolled members with medical conditions.”

Dispensary Planned For Cherokee, N.C.

A licensed dispensary will be opened in Cherokee, according to a news release. Those who qualify will be 21 or older, reports The Progressive Pulse.

Patients must have medical records that show they have at least one of the following conditions: AIDS; anxiety disorder; autism spectrum disorder; autoimmune disease; anorexia nervosa; cancer; dependency upon or addiction to opioids, glaucoma; HIV-related medical conditions; wasting disease; muscle spasms; seizures, including those caused by epilepsy; nausea or severe chronic pain; PTSD; and neuropathic conditions. The law also covers “any other medical condition or treatment of a condition that is classified as chronic or debilitating or which the board determines is chronic or debilitating.”

The tribe said it will have a dispensary in Cherokee.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has been considering a move to legalize medical marijuana for years. A group called Common Sense Cannabis, wanted to study legalizing medical and recreational marijuana about six years ago, but those talks dead-ended.

‘We want to make sure we do this right’

“We want to make sure that everyone knows this is not a rogue, free-for-all effort,” Wilson said. “We want to make sure we can do this right, correctly, and safely,” he said.

Smoking in public or in the casino will not be allowed, Wilson said.

People who leave tribal land with their marijuana purchases would be subject to state laws. Possession of an ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor in North Carolina.

Wilson said it was a coincidence that the Tribal Council passed its ordinance as the state legislature debates its own medical marijuana bill. Two committees have endorsed Senate bill 711.  The bill has two more Senate committee appearances before it makes it to a vote of the full Senate. Then, it goes to the state House for consideration.

‘There Is An Advantage To Being Out Front’

“There is an advantage to being out front,” Wilson said. “We definitely want to be trailblazers. We want to showcase to the state that, yes, we have sovereignty, and we understand the sensitivity around the subject.”

Legalization will bring economic benefits, but the effort is about more than that, Wilson said.

“It’s not just about money,” he said. “It’s about doing the right thing for people who are suffering.”

Results from an Elon University Poll published in February found that 73% of North Carolina adults support legalization of medical marijuana.

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