According to the Citizen Times, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) Council met on Jan. 12 and successfully voted to introduce the tribe’s medical cannabis regulations to the North Carolina General Assembly. The resolution states that this is done with the intention “to further the agenda effectively and efficiently coordinating in the administration of medical cannabis laws across the jurisdictions of the state of North Carolina and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.”
EBCI Chief Richard Sneed addressed the Tribal Council at the meeting, which consists of 12 members, about the necessity of keeping in communication with lawmakers in North Carolina. “All this is, is it as a matter of tribal law, before anybody does any work engaging with the state or federal legislature, we have to have permission of the governing legislative body to do so,” Sneed said.
“Any tribal council member—chief or vice chief—who engages in Raleigh or in D.C., we need essentially marching orders to do so. As this next legislative session in Raleigh gets started and we’re down there doing lobbying work, this just grants permission for us to talk to them about medical cannabis, and the subsequent North Carolina law that will probably be on the floor during the next general assembly.”
In August 2021, the EBCI Council voted 8 to 4 to legalize medical cannabis. Over one year later in November 2022, the EBCI announced that they harvested their first medical cannabis crop, and also began accepting job applications for the tribe’s medical cannabis dispensary, which is being operated by Qualla Enterprises LLC and is set to open sometime in 2023.
The EBCI Council voted in December 2022 to give Qualla Enterprises $63 million. According to Qualla Enterprises General Manager Forrest Parker, the tribe will be able to properly regulate its business. “It gives us a lot of confidence that we’re surrounded by people that have done this so many times, that have the experience, that have the understanding,” said Parker. “This tribe, I’m so proud of us for putting us in a position to learn from other people’s mistakes so that when we do this right, that number is precise. It’s not $150 million because we’re trying to cover all these things that we don’t know. We actually feel like we actually know.”
The EBCI is also funding its own Cannabis Control Board to manage the business, including licensing, audits, annual reports, and more. One control board member, David Wijewickrama, who is also an attorney, shed some light on what to expect in 2023. “There are a lot of moving parts to this project that we’re learning every day,” Wijewickrama said. “The tribe’s given us a lot of resources to ensure this process succeeds.”
As for nearby states with cannabis, only Alabama and Virginia offer medical cannabis programs. Once the EBCI dispensary opens, it will only allow patients who have a tribe medical cannabis card to purchase cannabis. Those patients must also be approved as suffering from acquired immune deficiency syndrome (such as AIDS, anxiety disorders, cancer, or glaucoma), a medical condition that causes wasting syndrome, muscle spasms (such as those caused by multiple sclerosis), and chronic pain, as well as neuropathic conditions or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Cardholders will be allowed to purchase one ounce (or about 2,500 milligrams of THC) or less per day, and no more than six ounces (or 10,000 milligrams of THC) per month. This particular limitation will be enacted until at least August 2024. After that time, the board can review and change the rules.
The EBCI is just one of many tribes looking to take part in the medical and/or adult-use cannabis industry. In New York, the Oneida Indian Nation announced last year that it was seeking to launch a seed-to-sale cannabis business in 2023, while the Saint Regis (Akwesasne) Mohawk Tribe partnered with actor Jim Belushi to open a dispensary in October 2022. This is followed by the Seneca Nation of Indians, which seeks to open a dispensary in Niagara Falls in February 2023.
Across the country in San Diego, the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel currently operates its own dispensary, called Mountain Source Santa Ysabel. The Las Vegas Paiute Tribe owns a dispensary called NuWu Cannabis Marketplace. The Lower Sioux Indian Community recently announced that it will build a hemp processing facility with the goal of creating a hempcrete test home. “There are 20,000 uses for the plant. I can’t think of a better one for our community members than to give them a home that will last forever,” said Lower Sioux Tribal Council Vice President, Earl Pendleton.