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Eastern Band of Cherokee cannabis dispensary to open on 4/20

The Qualla Enterprises farm on the Qualla Boundary grows the cannabis that will be sold at the dispensary.
Courtesy of Qualla Enterprises
The Qualla Enterprises farm on the Qualla Boundary grows the cannabis that will be sold at the dispensary.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Tribal Council is still considering adult use of cannabis for tribal members.

But this week did yield a big announcement: The Great Smoky Cannabis Company, operated by Qualla Enterprises, will open April 20.

“That’s the national cannabis holiday,” said Lee Griffin, human resources director of Qualla Enterprises during the Feb. 28 Tribal Council work session. “Nationally it’s the biggest revenue day of the year. It’s like New Year’s Eve at the casino.”

Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee voted more than 2:1 in September 2023 to support legalizing the possession and use of cannabis by people 21 or older, opening the way for North Carolina’s first legal purchase of marijuana for recreational use. But tribal council is still working on the rules for how that adults will be able to consume, posses and grow cannabis products.

The Eastern Band has been working on plans to grow, sell and allow marijuana use on the Qualla Boundary since before 2015.

The EBCI began growing hemp as part of a state agricultural in 2017 and then expanded to cannabis.

The tribe approved medical cannabis in a 2021 referendum and started accepting applications from enrolled tribal members for medical cards in July 2023.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee’s attorney general’s office did not have an updated count on the number of medical marijuana applications that had been sent in during the session.

The Smoky Mountain News has reported that the tribe has $30 million worth of cannabis inventory in storage, but was unable to sell its product because of marijuana’s continued status as an illegal drug in North Carolina. This has also prevented the transport of cannabis from the farm on Cooper’s Creek to the dispensary in Cherokee.

In January, tribal council passed a long-awaited resolution to continue funding the tribe’s cannabis efforts. The Smoky Mountain News reported that Qualla Enterprises had previously requested $16 million in addition to $3 million in gap funding but that the total was unclear.

During the February work session, Qualla Enterprises General Manager Forrest Parker confirmed to council that the farm has figured out how to transport the crops for sale with the help of the tribal attorney general’s office.

“We currently have two forms of transportation approved by CCB (Cannabis Control Board). CCB one is an aviation plan and the other one is the roadways that we discussed. I appreciate the AG’s office for their help in working through that situation. I’d rather not discuss the exact routes on air,” Parker said.

Griffin said that The Great Smoky Cannabis Company is hopeful that tribal council will be able to approve adult use of cannabis before the 4/20 open date.

He said that there are currently 69 staff members employed by the company but the team hopes to bring that total to 78 if only medical marijuana is approved for the open date. If adult recreational use is approved, Griffin said, the dispensary will need more than 380 employees.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.