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North Carolina Tribe Develops a Medical Marijuana Program Before the State

North Carolina Tribe Develops a Medical Marijuana Program Before the State

After the North Carolina Senate passed the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act, the “Tar Heel State” was on its way to fall in line with the other thirty-seven (37) states who have legalized medical marijuana within its borders. However, following an internal caucus vote, the Senate-passed bill was effectively dead in the House session pushing back legalization for at least another six (6) months. The House’s push-back is in startling contrast to the mindset of North Carolina voters as 82% of voters, including 75% of Republicans and 86% of Democrats, reported to be in favor of legalizing medical marijuana in a poll conducted by the Carolina Partnership for Reform. Due to North Carolina’s law not permitting citizen initiatives, residents of the state will have to wait for their state legislature to come to a compromise before they see medical marijuana provided within their state’s borders . . . or will they?

According to the Charlotte Observer, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have begun harvesting medical marijuana with the plan to open one of the largest medical cannabis retail stores in the United States in 2023. Their marijuana crops are currently being grown in greenhouses on tribal lands about an hour west of Asheville while their workers begin retrofitting the old tribal bingo building to transform into their dispensary. The tribal subsidiary overseeing this project, Qualla Enterprises, LLC, reported that their medical marijuana operation will eventually employ 400 to 500 workers, which they have already received several hundred applications for. The tribe will provide the public a more solid date as to when the dispensary will be opening next year.

So, how will a medical marijuana business operate in an illegal state? The tribe has created their own cannabis board – EBCI Cannabis Control Board – that will oversee and regulate marijuana business licensing, as well as issue MMJ cards to patients. To be a “qualified” patient, one must be twenty-one (21) years and older to apply, as well as one of the following conditions:

  • Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (“AIDS”), anxiety disorders, autism spectrum disorders, autoimmune diseases, anorexia nervosa, cancer, dependence upon or addiction to opioids, glaucoma;
  • A medical condition or treatment for a medical condition that produces: cachexia (wasting syndrome), muscle spasms (including spasms caused by multiple sclerosis), seizures (including seizures caused by epilepsy), nausea, severe or chronic pain;
  • A medical condition related to the human immunodeficiency virus;
  • A neuropathic condition;
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”).

When the Cherokee tribe begins its dispensary program, qualified patients may purchase no more than one (1) ounce per day, and no more than six (6) ounces per month. Qualified patients will be able to purchase available medical marijuana products in the form of flower, pre-rolls, edibles, concentrates, and topicals.

Although it has been legal for adults to possess up to one (1) ounce of marijuana in the Qualla Boundary, anyone who leaves such Boundary will be subject to any state and local laws regarding marijuana possession. Currently under North Carolina law, possession of 0.5 ounces or less of marijuana for personal use is a Class 3 misdemeanor; possession of more than 0.5 to 1.5 ounces for personal use is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable of 1-45 days imprisonment; and possession of over 1 and a half ounces but less than or equal to 10 pounds is a Class 1 felony punishable by 3 to 8 months imprisonment.

As a result of the conflicting state and tribal laws, there are some concerns on how these operations will adequately provide medical marijuana to qualifying patients. However, regardless of what the future entails, this may be the push the North Carolina legislature needs to implement statewide medical marijuana regulations to ensure all those suffering within their state get the care and medicine they need.

It is projected that North Carolina will pass and enact regulations to develop a statewide medical marijuana business licensing program in the coming year. Now is the time to speak with a group of cannabis business experts to begin strategizing your business endeavor to become one of the first licensed in North Carolina. Set-up a call with one of our Team members today to discuss your options at