The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has approved growing, selling and using medical marijuana on its lands in Western North Carolina, tribal leaders said Thursday, making their territory the first place in North Carolina where medical cannabis is legal.
The tribal council’s approval of a medical marijuana ordinance testifies to “the changing attitudes toward legal marijuana and a recognition of the growing body of evidence that supports cannabis as medicine,” Principal Chief Richard Sneed said in a statement.
Medical marijuana is particularly vital “for those with debilitating conditions like cancer and chronic pain,” he said.
Medical use of cannabis products is legal in 36 states and four U.S. territories, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Eighteen states, two territories and the District of Columbia legally allow small amounts of marijuana for adult recreational use, according to the conference.
During his 13 years in the state legislature, Rep. Kelly Alexander of Charlotte has introduced many bills to legalize marijuana, including one this year that also stands little or no chance of becoming law, The Charlotte Observer previously reported.
He’s more optimistic about Senate Bill 711, which would legalize medical marijuana in the state. In July, the Senate Finance Committee approved the bill, which has bipartisan support. The bill was still in committee as of Wednesday.
Cherokee medical cannabis plans
The Cherokee maintain a sovereign nation in Western North Carolina, about an hour west of Asheville, known as the Qualla Boundary. Though the tribe “has relationships with” the state and federal governments, according to its website, the tribe “is a sovereign nation, meaning it has its own laws, elections, government, institutions, and the like.”
“Passing this ordinance is just the first step, but we are excited to begin building this program,” Sneed said. “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.”
The timeline for the tribe’s medical cannabis program — when cultivation will begin, and when marijuana will become available for purchase — was not immediately clear.
A tribal spokeswoman didn’t reply to an email by The Charlotte Observer asking whether non-tribal members would also have access to the tribe’s planned medical marijuana dispensary and program.
Cannabis Control Board
The tribe’s EBCI Cannabis Control Board, comprised of five individuals with expertise in healthcare, law enforcement, the cannabis industry and business, will control licensing for the cultivation, processing and sale of marijuana, according to a tribal news release.
The board will also issue the cards that allow people to purchase marijuana at the dispensary. Medically qualified patients over 21 years old will be able to apply, though the news release does not give more specific information on what kinds of illnesses would allow a person to qualify.
People will be limited to buying one ounce of marijuana per day, not to exceed six ounces per month, or 2,500 milligrams of THC in medical cannabis products per day, not to exceed 10,000 milligrams per month. THC is the primary psychoactive component in marijuana.