Cherokee Indians Expanding Marijuana Access in North Carolina

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina opened their medical cannabis facility in April within their sovereign territory in Cherokee, just a mile east of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort.

Cherokee Indians marijuana cannabis North Carolina
An elderly tribal member shops for cannabis at the Cherokee Indians’ Great Smoky Cannabis Company in North Carolina. This summer, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians plans to expand its marijuana program for recreational use. (Image: Great Smoky Cannabis Company)

The Cherokees’ cannabis facility is currently open to anyone aged 21 and older who possesses a tribal-issued medical marijuana card. The Great Smoky Cannabis Company’s dispensary also accepts out-of-state medical marijuana cards.

The tribe plans to soon expand access to recreational marijuana use at its Great Smoky outpost. In addition to distribution, the company harvests and manufactures the products it sells.

During a tribal referendum held last September, the Cherokee government said about 70% of the vote was in support of adding recreational use to the tribe’s cannabis program. Tribal leaders formally approved the adult-use ordinance this week.

The plan is to first make recreational products available to tribal members next month. The Great Smoky Cannabis Company hopes to have recreational marijuana access available to nontribal members in August.

Cannabis Corner 

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ sovereign territory is located in the southwestern part of North Carolina. Despite legal medicinal and recreational marijuana use expanding greatly across the US in recent decades, the Great Smoky Mountains remain relatively free of legal marijuana.

North Carolina and South Carolina have no legal use of cannabis products. Neighboring Georgia and Tennessee allow for CBD oil but products containing THC, the intoxicating and mind-altering component of the cannabis plant, remain prohibited.

The Cherokees expanding their marijuana program to recreational use, tribal officials say, is expected to increase the company’s annual gross revenues by $185 million. The Great Smoky Cannabis Company projects first-year revenue of $200 million from medical sales.

The Cherokees are the lone federally recognized tribe in North Carolina and have an ideal territory in the southwest part of the state that can market cannabis to residents in nearby Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The sale of recreational cannabis is expected to grow the tribe’s economy, which is primarily dependent on Harrah’s Cherokee and its sister property, Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River, in Murphy.

Tribal Freedoms

Cannabis remains illegal under federal law but the US government has told states that its Justice Department won’t pursue legal action against states that decide to decriminalize the plant’s use and possession.

A memo from the DOJ in December 2014 told federally recognized tribes that the federal government’s noninterference policy afforded to the 50 states and Washington, DC, regarding cannabis would also apply to the more than 500 sovereign tribes and Alaska Native communities.

As a result, tribal governments with federal recognition can determine their own laws on marijuana use, possession, and distribution.

As for the Cherokees, the tribe’s cannabis rules require that products from the Great Smoky Cannabis Company be consumed in private — not in public — and possession and consumption within 100 feet of any school, daycare, church, hospital, park, playground, and any other community facility is prohibited. Violators face a $500 fine, 72 hours of community service, and a substance abuse assessment. Subsequent violations can result in jail time.

The tribe reminds nontribal members that federal laws apply once a person departs the Cherokees’ tribal lands.

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The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina opened their medical cannabis facility in April within their sovereign territory in Cherokee, just a mile east of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort. An elderly tribal member shops for cannabis at the Cherokee Indians’ Great Smoky Cannabis Company in North Carolina. This summer, the Eastern Band of…

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