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First legal medical marijuana harvest begins in North Carolina, dispensary coming

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The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has begun harvesting medical marijuana and expects to open the largest medical cannabis retail store in the U.S. next year, the tribal official in charge of the operation told The Charlotte Observer on Friday.

“I’m really proud of my tribe taking this step, one with the betterment of this community in mind,” said Forrest Parker, general manager of Qualla Enterprises LLC.

Qualla Enterprises is the tribal subsidiary over its budding medical marijuana business on Cherokee land in western North Carolina. The crop is grown in greenhouses.

The tribe will have a more certain opening date for its dispensary around Jan. 1, Parker said.

That’s also when workers will begin retrofitting the old tribal bingo building for the store, he said.

The Cherokee’s medical marijuana operation will eventually employ 400 to 500 workers, adding to a tribal workforce that is 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, roughly 80% of them tribal members, Parker said. Marijuana growing began in the summer, while processing and extraction work has yet to begin, he said.

“Most special to me is the employment opportunity,” Parker said. “We can teach them skills they can use for the rest of their lives in what is a very well-paying industry.”

NC medical marijuana

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The tribal council last year approved growing, selling and using medical marijuana on its lands, making their territory the first place in North Carolina where medical cannabis is legal.

The council’s approval testified to “the changing attitudes toward legal marijuana and a recognition of the growing body of evidence that supports cannabis as medicine,” Principal Chief Richard Sneed said at the time.

Medical marijuana benefits people who have “debilitating 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.

Though the tribe “has relationships with” the 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 — comprised of five individuals with expertise in health care and law enforcement — controls licensing for the cultivation, processing and sale of the marijuana.

The board will issue cards that will allow people to purchase marijuana at the dispensary. Medically qualified patients over 21 years old will be able to apply, though so far no more specific information has been released on what kinds of illnesses would allow a person to qualify.

Last year, Cherokee leaders said non-members of the tribe will be permitted to purchase medical marijuana as long as they met criteria and receive a card from the control board.

People will be limited to buying one ounce of marijuana per day, not to exceed six ounces per month, or 2,500 milligrams of THC in medical cannabis products per day, not to exceed 10,000 milligrams per month. THC is the primary psychoactive component in marijuana.

Products at the store will primarily be flower, pre-rolls, edibles, concentrates and topicals, according to the tribe’s cannabis website.

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