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Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Issues First Medical Cannabis Cards In North Carolina

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) has made history as they recently announced issuing their first set of medical cannabis cards. This decision comes after months of deliberation and preparation by the tribal council, marking a significant step forward in the legalization of cannabis on their reservation.

In addition, the EBCI tribe members also voted in favor of a proposal to permit the sale of recreational cannabis on tribal land. This groundbreaking decision makes The Qualla Boundary the first place in North Carolina where both medical and recreational marijuana can be legally sold.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI)

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is a federally recognized Native American tribe in western North Carolina. The tribe has sovereign status, meaning they have their own governing powers and laws.

In 2021, the EBCI made history by voting in favor of decriminalizing marijuana and legalizing medical marijuana on their reservation. This decision came after years of advocacy and lobbying by tribal members, who argued that medical cannabis could provide relief for many health conditions within their community.

The Cherokee Police Commission of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) met on Thursday, Oct. 12, where they issued the first medical marijuana cards. Cherokee One Feather reported that the EBCI CCB (Cannabis Control Board) had received 1,005 patient card applications. Of the 1,005, 817 have been approved, 129 are incomplete due to a lack of photo ID or other missing information, and 59 were denied due to lack of a qualifying ailment.

Only enrolled tribal members will receive cards at first, then the doors will open for other North Carolina residents to apply, according to WCNC Charlotte.

Adult-Use Cannabis Vote

A significant decision made by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) last month was their vote to legalize recreational cannabis sales on tribal lands. This move not only allows for the sale of marijuana to those over 21 years old but also makes it the first place in North Carolina where recreational cannabis can be legally sold.

The vote was met with overwhelming support from tribal members, passing with nearly 70% of voters in support of adult use of cannabis.

Potential Challenges Faced By The EBCI

Despite the EBCI’s decision to legalize medical and recreational cannabis on their reservation, challenges still exist. One major issue is that marijuana remains illegal under state and federal laws outside tribal lands, which means that individuals found in possession of cannabis outside of the reservation could still face legal consequences.

Another challenge is the transportation of cannabis from their cultivation site to their dispensary, which requires travel on Swain County roads. The EBCI has addressed this concern by working with local authorities in Swain County to establish a plan for the safe and legal transport of cannabis.

However, this issue highlights the complexities of implementing marijuana laws on tribal lands, as they must navigate and take into consideration both state and federal regulations.

Medical Cannabis Fails To Pass Outside Of Tribal Lands In NC

Outside of tribal lands, the state of North Carolina has yet to pass legislation legalizing medical cannabis. In 2023, Senate Bill 3, also known as the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act, was passed by the Senate but ultimately failed to be taken up by the House of Representatives.

This bill would have allowed patients with serious and life-threatening illnesses to obtain and use medical cannabis legally. However, it faced opposition from many Republicans in the House, ultimately stalling its progress.

The failure to pass this legislation means that North Carolina remains one of only 12 states without a medical cannabis program. This is despite public support for such a program, with polls showing that over 70% of North Carolinians are in favor of allowing medical use of cannabis.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) has made significant progress in the realm of cannabis, with their decision to issue medical marijuana cards and a recent vote to allow adult use cannabis on tribal lands. This move not only highlights the tribe’s sovereignty and ability to govern themselves but also serves as an example for other indigenous communities navigating the complexities of implementing cannabis laws.

However, outside of tribal lands in North Carolina, the issue of medical cannabis remains unresolved. The failure to pass Senate Bill 3 or the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act means that eligible individuals in the state continue to be denied access to a potentially life-changing form of medicine. Allowing these individuals to enroll in the EBCI’s medical program could greatly benefit both the tribe and those in need, serving as an outlet for patients to obtain medical cannabis legally.

Moving forward, all stakeholders must come together and find a solution that benefits everyone. The EBCI’s actions have shown that progress can be made even in the face of legal obstacles, and we hope that this serves as inspiration for continued efforts toward medical cannabis legalization in North Carolina.


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