A North Carolina Cherokee tribe is harvesting the state's first-ever legal cannabis crop for its new medical marijuana program, which is slated to kick off early next year.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (ECBI) voted to legalize medical cannabis last August, making their tribal land the only territory in North Carolina where marijuana can be legally grown, sold, or used. This spring, the tribe purchased 95 acres of land for a cool $15 million and planted its first cannabis crop. After a long summer, the tribe is now harvesting the first legal marijuana plants to be grown in the state in nearly a century.
Qualla Enterprises, the subsidiary that is in charge of the tribe's medical cannabis business, is currently working to build out a new dispensary in the town of Cherokee, about an hour's drive west of Asheville. The company has yet to announce an official opening date, but has said that they plan to sell medicinal flower, pre-rolls, edibles, concentrates, and topicals.
“I’m really proud of my tribe taking this step, one with the betterment of this community in mind,” said Forrest Parker, Qualla's general manager, to The Charlotte Observer. “Most special to me is the employment opportunity. We can teach them skills they can use for the rest of their lives in what is a very well-paying industry.”
Presently, Qualla employs around 40 people, about 80% of whom are tribal members. Once the harvest is complete, the company will hire more staff to help process and extract cannabinoids from the new crop. Qualla is also building a new dispensary location in the tribe's old bingo building and will hire even more employees to staff this new location. By the time the industry is fully operational, Parker said that he expects to employ 400 to 500 workers.
The EBCI Cannabis Control Board plans to offer medical marijuana cards to adults over 21 who have been diagnosed with specific qualifying conditions but has yet to detail exactly what conditions will be covered. The board has said that they will also issue cards to people who are not members of the tribe, though. Registered patients will be limited to buying no more than one ounce of bud a day and no more than six ounces a month. For edibles and concentrates, there is a THC limit of 2,500mg per day or 10,000mg per month.
North Carolina is currently one of the minority US states that continues to prohibit all forms of cannabis other than low-THC CBD oils. But like other federally-recognized Native American tribes, the EBCI is not subject to state law and has the sovereign authority to create its cannabis regulations.
Other tribes, like South Dakota's Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, have also opened medical dispensaries in states that haven’t yet launched their cannabis programs. In New York, several individual tribes have started selling recreational bud more than a year before the state plans to open its first official adult-use stores, and tribes in other adult-use states are following suit.