The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have begun harvesting medicinal marijuana and expect to open the largest retail medicinal cannabis store in the United States next year, the tribal official in charge of the operation told The Charlotte Observer on Friday.
“I am truly proud that my tribe is taking this step, which is focused on the betterment of this community,” said Forrest Parker, general manager of Qualla Enterprises LLC.
Qualla Enterprises is the tribal subsidiary of its burgeoning medical marijuana business in the Cherokee countryside of western North Carolina. The crop is grown in greenhouses.
The tribe will have a safer opening date for its dispensary around Jan. 1, Parker said.
At that time, workers will also begin converting the old tribal bingo building for the store, he said.
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The Cherokee medical marijuana operation will eventually employ 400 to 500 workers, adding to a tribal workforce that’s already one of the largest in the state at about 7,500 employees, Parker said.
The tribe has already received several hundred applications for medical marijuana jobs, including from neighboring states, he said.
About 40 workers are on the job, about 80% of them tribals, Parker said. Cultivation of marijuana began in the summer while processing and extraction work has yet to begin, he said.
“The special thing for me is the employment opportunity,” said Parker. “We can teach them skills that they can use for the rest of their lives in a very high-paying industry.”
The tribal council approved the cultivation, sale, and use of medical marijuana on its land last year, making its territory the first place in North Carolina where medical cannabis is legal.
The council’s approval is a testament to “changing attitudes towards legal marijuana and a recognition of the growing body of evidence supporting cannabis as a medicine,” Principal Richard Sneed said at the time.
Medical marijuana benefits people who have “debilitating medical conditions like cancer and chronic pain,” he said.
Only the Carolinas and 11 other states have yet to legalize medical marijuana.
The Cherokee maintain a sovereign nation in western North Carolina about an hour west of Asheville known as the Qualla Boundary.
Although the tribe has “relations with” state and federal governments, according to its website, the tribe is “a sovereign nation, meaning it has its own laws, elections, government, institutions, and the like.”
Cherokee Medical Cannabis Plans
The tribe’s EBCI Cannabis Control Board — made up of five people with expertise in healthcare and law enforcement — controls licensing for the cultivation, processing, and sale of the marijuana.
The board will issue cards that will allow people to buy marijuana at the dispensary. Medically qualified patients over the age of 21 can apply, although no more specific information has been released as to what types of medical conditions would qualify an individual.
Last year, Cherokee leaders said non-tribe members can buy medical marijuana as long as they meet the criteria and receive a card from the regulatory agency.
People will be limited to buying one ounce of marijuana per day, no more than six ounces per month, or 2,500 milligrams of THC in medicinal cannabis products per day, no more than 10,000 milligrams per month. THC is the primary psychoactive component in marijuana.
Products in the store will be primarily flower, pre-rolls, edibles, concentrates, and topicals, according to the tribe’s cannabis website.