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Cherokees in North Carolina begin sales of recreational marijuana to adult members

FILE - A worker pulls leaves from the flower of a cannabis plant at Greenlight Dispensary, Oct. 31, 2022, in Grandview, Mo.
Charlie Riedel
/
AP
FILE - A worker pulls leaves from the flower of a cannabis plant at Greenlight Dispensary, Oct. 31, 2022, in Grandview, Mo. On Thursday, June 27, 2024, Ky. Gov. Andy Beshear announced that the state will start taking applications from businesses wanting to participate in the its medical cannabis program, launching early 2025. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

A tribal-owned medical marijuana dispensary in western North Carolina is also now selling cannabis products for adult recreational use just weeks after the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians governing board approved its expanded use on tribal lands.

The Great Smoky Cannabis Co. began recreational marijuana sales on July 4 to adults at least 21 years of age who are enrolled Eastern Band members or members of any other federally recognized tribe, according to news outlets. A company social media post included a photo of what it called last Thursday's first legal sale of marijuana for recreational use on Eastern Band land called the Qualla Boundary. Recreational sales to nonmembers are expected to begin later in the summer.

In April, Great Smoky Cannabis opened its doors for medical marijuana purchases for adults with a tribe medical cannabis patient card or an out-of-state approved medical marijuana card.

But tribal members had already voted in a referendum last September backing adult recreational use on their reservation as well, and telling the tribal council to develop legislation to regulate such a market. Based on the referendum, the council approved language last month that effectively decriminalizes cannabis on the Qualla Boundary, but also updates the tribe’s laws to reflect its use.

Marijuana possession or use is otherwise illegal in North Carolina, but the federally recognized tribe can pass rules related to cannabis as a sovereign nation. Of North Carolina and its surrounding states, only Virginia allows for the legal recreational use of marijuana statewide.

Qualla Enterprises, the tribe’s cannabis subsidiary, had previously signaled that adult-use sales would initially be limited to tribal members. The expansion to others could begin in August, a Qualla Enterprises executive said recently.

The Great Smoky Cannabis marijuana sales center, located near the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, is predicted to be more of a revenue-generator for the 14,000-member tribe as its customer base is expanded.

At a council late last month, the tribal council voted to overturn two provisions contained in the new adult-use ordinance. One amendment now overturned had made it illegal for non-tribal government-owned businesses to sell hemp on the Qualla Boundary. Another had allowed medical marijuana card holders to grow up to four plants in homes without children.

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