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The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in NC will sell medical marijuana to non-members

Medical marijuana. (Getty Images/ Sean Gallup)

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will make medical marijuana from its dispensary in western North Carolina available to people who are not members of the tribe.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee announced last week that its Tribal Council had set into motion plans to grow and dispense medical marijuana on tribal land.

Doses of up to one ounce per day, and not more six ounces a month, will be available to members and non-members alike, Jeremy Wilson, governmental affairs liaison for Principal Chief Richard Sneed, said in an interview.

A five-member Cannabis Control Board will issue cards to people that will allow them to make purchases from the dispensary. Those who qualify will be 21 or older and will have medical records that show they have at least one of the following conditions: AIDS; anxiety disorder; autism spectrum disorder; autoimmune disease; anorexia nervosa; cancer; dependency upon or addiction to opioids, glaucoma; HIV-related medical conditions; wasting disease; muscle spasms; seizures, including those caused by epilepsy; nausea or severe chronic pain; PTSD; neuropathic conditions, any other medical condition or treatment of a condition that is classified as chronic or debilitating or which the board determines is chronic or debilitating.

The tribe will have a dispensary in Cherokee.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has been considering a move to legalize medical marijuana for years. A group called Common Sense Cannabis, wanted to study legalizing medical and recreational marijuana about six years ago, but those talks dead-ended.

Wilson said he restarted the discussion when he was on the Tribal Council in 2017 and worked the tribe’s agriculture secretary Joey Owle, who was one with one of the leaders of Common Sense Cannabis.

They spent a lot of time talking to the Tribal Council, going to community meetings, and visiting other tribes to see how they handled their dispensaries and cultivation sites, Wilson said. They also talked to local legislators about their vision.

Medical marijuana is legal in 36 states and four territories, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. It is not legal in North Carolina, but the Eastern Band of Cherokee land is a sovereign state.

Results from an Elon University Poll published in February found that 73% of North Carolina adults support legalization of medical marijuana.

“We want to make sure that everyone knows this is not a rogue, free-for-all effort,” Wilson said. “We understand the environment. We understand that we are going to be under a microscope. We want to make sure we can do this right, correctly, and safely,” he said.

Smoking in public or in the casino will not be allowed, Wilson said.

People who leave tribal land with their marijuana purchases would be subject to state laws. Possession of an ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor in North Carolina.

Wilson said it was a coincidence that the Tribal Council passed its ordinance as the state legislature debates its own medical marijuana bill. Two committees have endorsed Senate bill 711.  The bill has two more Senate committee appearances before it makes it to a vote of the full Senate. Then, it goes to the state House for consideration.

“There is an advantage to being out front,” Wilson said. “We definitely want to be trailblazers. We want to showcase to the state that, yes, we have sovereignty, and we understand the sensitivity around the subject.”

Legalization will bring economic benefits, but the effort is about more than that, Wilson said.

“It’s not just about money,” he said. “It’s about saving lives. It’s about doing the right thing for people who are suffering.”

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