Cherokee Tribe Moves Forward With Recreational Cannabis Sales, While North Carolina And Neighboring States Remain Fully Illegal

Zinger Key Points
  • EBCI Tribal Council legalizes recreational cannabis with sales to begin in 2-3 months, allowing cultivation and boosting the local economy
  • Qualla Enterprises anticipates employing around 500 people and generating $260 million in profits by 2026 from the cannabis industry.

About nine months after members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) voted to legalize marijuana sales for adults over 21, the Tribal Council made it official on June 6. However, recreational sales won’t start immediately. EBCI Attorney General Mike McConnell said it might take two to three more months for Qualla Enterprises to begin sales, Smoky Mountain News reports.

Medical Cannabis Before, Recreational Now

Medical cannabis is legal for the Cherokee Tribe in the Qualla Boundary where sales launched on 4/20 this year. The tribe is a federally recognized sovereign self-governed nation hence the community has the right to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the otherwise fully prohibitionist state of North Carolina. The tribal community decided to expand to recreational sales as well though their efforts have faced resistance from the state’s GOP representatives.

In the meantime, the medical marijuana program of the Cherokee Tribe, established in 2021, continues to serve those with EBCI-issued cards. Applications are open to North Carolina residents over 21, costing $100 for residents and $50 for enrolled EBCI members. Approved conditions include anxiety, eating disorders, and cancer.

Great Business Anticipated For Cherokee Tribe

The tribe anticipates its cannabis industry will become highly profitable. The tribal enterprise expects to profit from the ongoing prohibition in nearby North Carolina, Tennessee, and South Carolina, where cannabis is fully prohibited, but also Virginia and Georgia, where only medicinal marijuana is permitted. Qualla Enterprises aims to employ around 500 people and generate $260 million in profits by fiscal year 2026. The tribe also plans to benefit from a tribal levy, similar to a sales tax, on cannabis sales.

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Tribal Legalization Precedents

Several other tribal communities have similarly navigated cannabis legalization in states where it remains prohibited. In 2023, the Red Lake Nation in Minnesota became the first in the state to open a recreational cannabis dispensary, leveraging its sovereignty to bypass state delays. In Wisconsin, the Ho-Chunk Nation decriminalized weed on their lands, positioning themselves for future cannabis ventures once the state legalizes it. Similarly, in New Mexico, the Pueblos of Picuris and Pojoaque entered the cannabis market through intergovernmental agreements. These examples go to show that throughout America, many tribes are reclaiming their right to cannabis culture and heritage.

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Posted In: CannabisNewsMarketsCannabisCherokee TribeNorth CarolinaQualla BoundaryQualla EnterprisesRecreational Cannabis
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