(The Center Square) – North Carolina residents, in addition to those in the Cherokee tribe, can soon get cards for medical marijuana that remains illegal in the state after an unsuccessful try this year in the legislative session.
Neil Denman, executive director of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ Cannabis Control Board, told the Cherokee Police Commission medical marijuana cards are now being issued for tribal members to purchase cannabis within daily and weekly limits once the tribe’s dispensary on U.S. 19 opens in December.
The facility near Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, known as the Great Smokey Cannabis Company, will eventually be available to all North Carolina residents who qualify for a medical marijuana card. The tribe’s Cannabis Control Board opened applications to the public in April, according to the board’s website.
Denman said the board has received 1,005 applications for patient cards, approved 817, and denied 59. Another 129 were incomplete, he said, according to the tribal Cherokee One Feather newspaper.
Tribal members are expected to receive licenses before processing for North Carolina residents.
Officials with the tribe’s for-profit marijuana business have said they’ve stockpiled about $30 million in inventory to prepare for sales.
Marijuana remains illegal in North Carolina. The tribe will be the only place to purchase the plant in the state once sales launch, despite multiple unsuccessful attempts to create a state medical marijuana program in recent years.
The effort died in the House during the current long session after Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said Senate Bill 3 did not garner enough support for a floor vote. SB3, and a similar bill last session, was sponsored by Brunswick County Republican Sen. Bill Rabon, who has testified about how cannabis helped him overcome a battle with colon cancer more than two decades ago.
Opponents of the bill have argued it provides a gateway to legalizing recreational marijuana, complicates laws dealing with driving under the influence, and puts the state at odds with federal law. Marijuana remains a Schedule I drug – deemed to have high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use – under the federal Controlled Substances Act. President Joe Biden has initiated a review of the classification he says “makes no sense.”
The Cherokee tribe’s medical marijuana cards come just weeks after members voted overwhelmingly to legalize recreational marijuana last month at its 57,000-acre Qualla Boundary about 46 miles west of Asheville. Tribal officials must still approve legislation to make that a reality.
The Eastern Band of Cherokees has invested about $31 million in Qualla Enterprises, which recently requested another $19 million to cover operating expenses and employee wages.
“Qualla Enterprises … has spent more money than the Tribe has provided, presently does not have a source of revenue other than the Tribe, and needs more money immediately or it will have to start laying off Tribal member employees,” according to an Oct. 9 resolution.
Other ongoing issues involve transporting product over county roads outside of the boundary, which remains illegal. Denman told the Cherokee Police Commission the cannabis control board is working with county officials to develop a solution.