Medical Marijuana Is Now Legal in North Carolina, But Only on Cherokee Land
Cherokee Nation in North Carolina has used its sovereign authority to legalize medical cannabis, while the rest of the state continues to prohibit the plant in all its forms.
Published on August 10, 2021

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Medical cannabis is now legal on Cherokee land in western North Carolina, one of the few holdout states that have failed to enact its own medical marijuana law. 

On August 5th, the tribal council of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) approved the cultivation, sale, and use of medical cannabis for adults over the age of 21. Qualifying patients will be able to purchase up to one ounce of weed, or a total of 2,500mg of THC per day, with a maximum cap of six ounces or 10,000mg of THC per month. The tribe has not announced exactly which medical conditions would qualify a person to participate in the new program, though.

“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, particularly for those with debilitating conditions like cancer and chronic pain,” Principal Chief Richard Sneed wrote in a statement, NORML reports.

The new ordinance will establish a cannabis control board, consisting of five people with experience in the cannabis industry, law enforcement, and healthcare. This board will oversee the licensing and regulations for cannabis cultivation, processing, and sales on tribal land as well as the registration of medical cannabis patients. 

The program will be open to qualifying patients who live within the Qualla Boundary, the tribe's sovereign land in western North Carolina. Tribe members living outside this area will also be eligible for the program, but the tribe has not announced whether non-tribal members would also be allowed to enroll. All medical pot will be sold at a licensed dispensary in the town of Cherokee, about an hour’s drive west of Asheville.

“Passing this ordinance is just the first step, but we are excited to begin building this program,” Sneed said, according to The Charlotte Observer. “I know that I reflect the sentiments of many patients in expressing my pride and gratitude for the leadership demonstrated by our Council on this issue.”

With the passage of this new ordinance, the Qualla Boundary is now the only place in North Carolina where medical pot is legal. The state legislature is currently debating a bill that could change that fact, though. Two state Senate committees have just advanced a bill to legalize medical pot in the Tar Heel State, but in order to pass, this bill would need to be approved by both chambers of the state legislature before the end-of-session deadline of August 20th.

There is still a strong chance that the bill will fail, like many previous attempts have, leaving millions of North Carolinans without access to medicine. But as a sovereign nation independent from the state, the ECBI does not have to comply with the state's excessive prohibition laws. Other tribal nations have also used their authority to establish medical pot programs in states like South Dakota and Minnesota, and tribes in Michigan, Montana, and New York are also working to establish their own legal adult-use markets.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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