Cherokee Land in Western NC Legalizes Medical Cannabis

Farmers tending to cannabis plants in hemp farm with John Deere Gator nearby.

Indigenous tribes in the US have control over the lands allotted to them to preserve their cultures and ways. To some extent, these tribes have the freedom to exercise their own laws without the federal government’s interference. In Cherokee, North Carolina, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians approved the growing, use, and sales of medical marijuana only in the lands of the western part of the state as decided and announced by the leaders of the tribe.

People who wonder if medical cannabis is legal in NC should know that the approval of this medical marijuana ordinance makes Cherokee Land the 1st place in NC where medical marijuana will become legal. The Cherokee tribe is one of the sovereign nations in North Carolina and their territory is famously called the Qualla Boundary.

Only in Cherokee Land

With the approval of the council of the tribe, medical marijuana is now legal in Cherokee Land. According to North Carolina cannabis law, the local ordinance that got approved on the 5th of August legalized medical marijuana only in the Qualla Boundary. This means that qualified patients can buy up to 1 ounce of marijuana each day and only up to 6 ounces each month. Qualified patients who don’t reside in the Qualla Boundary can still obtain a recommendation allowing them to buy medical marijuana of the same amount sometimes in smell proof bags.

The Principal Chief of the EBCI, Richard Sneed, stated how significant this approval of legalizing medical marijuana was. According to Sneed, this act will provide relief to patients who suffer from debilitating diseases like chronic pain or even cancer.

Important decisions

Under the ordinance, patients who may purchase medical marijuana should be 21 years old and above. However, the Tribe has yet to finalize which medical conditions will permit patients to obtain program cards.

According to Sneed, the approval of the medical marijuana ordinance shows the change in attitude towards legal marijuana and the growing body’s recognition of the evidence that supports the medical use of cannabis, specifically for patients with cancer, chronic pain, and other debilitating conditions. Sneed praises the Council for their exhaustive research, consultation with the experts, and thoughtful consideration to come up with a system that will balance compassionate patient care with the preservation of security and safety in the community. Approving this ordinance is the 1st step and everyone feels excited to start the program. Sneed knows that he reflects the feelings of patients in expressing his gratitude and pride for the leadership shown by the Council regarding this issue.

The next thing on the agenda of the tribe is the establishment of a Cannabis Control Board. This group will be in charge of creating regulations, issuing ID cards for patients, and licensing workers for the program. They are also in charge of providing licenses for processors, laboratories, and cultivators.

The rules

Right now, it is only in Cherokee Land where NC cannabis legalization got approved. They can sell medical cannabis since the tribe is a sovereign nation with its own election, laws, institutions, government, and the like. Medical marijuana is still illegal in all other parts of North Carolina. The ordinance includes various provisions. For one, it establishes a regulatory framework for the use, cultivation, and sale of medical marijuana in Cherokee Land.

Tribal members and those who don’t belong to the tribe who are 21 years old and above and qualify for a medical marijuana card may buy cannabis from one of the land’s dispensaries. Patients with ID cards can only purchase 1 ounce of cannabis each day and up to 6 ounces each month. This is a very specific ordinance that limits 2,500 mg of THC in medical cannabis products for patients with ID cards each day. They shouldn’t go beyond 10,000 mg of THC in their medical cannabis products each month. 

The Cannabis Control Board is in charge of issuing medical cannabis cards to qualified patients. This is something that requires the signature of the patient’s doctor. Of course, the tribe knows about the possibility of facing backlash because of this. To counter the issue, the board members will only issue cards to patients who have official health records proving that they suffer from a condition that requires medical cannabis.

In addition, the board will also permit the sale of medical cannabis to patients who possess medical cannabis cards from other states or tribes where the use of cannabis is also legal. The members of the Cannabis Control Board are experts in the industry of cannabis, health care, and law enforcement. They will be in charge of awarding laboratory, cultivation, dispensary, and processing licenses too. Right now, the tribe still doesn’t have a timeline for when the sale and cultivation of medical marijuana will start in the Qualla Boundary.

Conditions that will qualify people to buy

According to the medical marijuana ordinance, patients who are 21 years old and above, suffer from specific health conditions and possess the official medical cannabis ID card may buy medical marijuana from the dispensaries of the tribe. These conditions include acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), autism spectrum disorders, anxiety disorders, autoimmune diseases, cancer, anorexia nervosa, addiction or dependence on opioids, and glaucoma. Any medical treatment for a condition that produces muscle spasms (including multiple sclerosis spasms), cachexia (wasting syndrome), nausea, seizures (including epileptic seizures), and chronic or severe pain. Any medical condition related to HIV. Any neuropathic condition and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The tribe may add other medical treatments or conditions in the future.

When and where to buy Cannabis

The tribe will begin sales from the local dispensaries in Cherokee Land in 2022 but they haven’t decided on an exact date yet. Based on the provisions of the ordinance, they will permit up to 2 dispensaries in the Qualla Boundary only in the next three years. They may allow more dispensaries to open after that time period. Kituwah Medical LLC will run the 1st dispensary under the ownership of the Cherokee tribal government. The ordinance also states that people shouldn’t use medical marijuana in any place, public or open space. Its use is also prohibited in Tribal facilities and offices, community centers, and schools. Visitors may use medical marijuana in their hotel rooms under the discretion of the owners of the hotels. 

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