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EBCI medical marijuana program to begin selling in 2023 - here's what you need to know

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians authorized this program in 2021 managing it from seed to sale.{ } { }(Photo Credit: WLOS Staff)
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians authorized this program in 2021 managing it from seed to sale. (Photo Credit: WLOS Staff)
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In 2023, if you qualify, you will be able to buy small amounts of medicinal marijuana within 50 miles of Asheville.

After more than a year of preparation, the Qualla Boundary will begin dispensing medicinal marijuana in 2023.

News 13 walks you through the five things you should know about EBCI’s medical marijuana program and how you can learn more information.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians authorized the program in 2021, managing it from seed to sale. In 2022, EBCI grew, harvested and began processing cannabis here in North Carolina.

In 2023, EBCI plans to begin selling.

News 13 sat down with a member of the Control Board to talk about how it works in a state that has not legalized THC.

“There are a lot of moving parts to this project that we’re learning every day,” said David Wijewickrama, an attorney and member of the Control Board for the EBCI Medical Marijuana Program under Chapter 17 of EBCI Tribal Law.


It’s an enterprise truly growing from the ground up in the Smoky Mountains.

“The tribe’s given us a lot of resources to ensure this process succeeds,” Wijewickrama said.

Qualla Boundary is a sovereign nation, meaning it sets its own laws. With other tribes and 36 states with medical marijuana to some extent, they see a medicinal need.

“You can’t buy this marijuana just because you want it,” Wijewickrama said.

Medical cannabis patient card

Applications will open first to tribe members and later North Carolina residents for an annual fee. You must be over 21, have proof of residency, a government-issued ID and be willing to share medical records. While doctors can't prescribe a controlled substance, they can document a list of 13 chronic or debilitating conditions the five-member board will use to determine if a person qualifies.

“That you have one of the underlying conditions, you have glaucoma, you have AIDS, you have cancer, you have epilepsy, you have PTSD, you have some type of medical condition that the regulation based on scientific data believe would support the use of marijuana to that patient to help that patient,” Wijewickrama explained.

Where can you buy it?

Qualla Enterprises will start with a single dispensary in the old tribal bingo building. You must be over 21 and show your card to enter. A second location could eventually be added.

What are the sale limits?

Daily cardholders can buy no more than an ounce, or 2,500 milligrams of THC products. Often, one gummy is 10 milligrams -- at 2,500 milligrams, that's 250 gummies. Over a month, cardholders can buy no more than 6 ounces or 10,000 milligrams of THC products. The values will hold through the introductory phase, which lasts through August 2024. After that, they may be modified.

“It will be uniform to all participants, all patients,” Wijewickrama said.

Where can/can't you use it?

Use in public or in tribal facilities, schools and community centers is prohibited. Visitors will need to follow hotel rules for in-room use.

“There’s not going to be any law that would change -- driving under the influence, people using drugs of any kind and being under the influence operating a motor vehicle, a boat, any type of motorized vehicle. I would hope that people will use common sense. It’s kind of like using alcohol. If you’re going to have a couple of beers, stay at home and drink them,” Wijewickrama explained.

The tribe plans to accept patient cards from other medical programs.


The state legislature's failure to pass the “Compassionate Care Act” legalizing medical marijuana means state laws apply beyond the Qualla Boundary. Possession of more than 1.5 ounces is a felony, less is a misdemeanor. There are consequences for those not truthful on applications or skirting guidelines.

“We have the ability to have hearings. If we revoke people’s cards, they have the ability to appeal our decisions. It’s a rather complex process,” Wijewickrama said.

The process is geared toward making the program as safe and secure as possible.

“The state is always going to look after public safety, the tribe is always going to look after public safety. Nobody wants to see anybody get hurt, when this project is designed to help people that have medical issues,” Wijewickrama said.

The rough time limit

Right now, the program is considered to be still in development. Roughly, the program could open to tribal members by late spring 2023. It will be another 60-90 days from that to open to North Carolina residents.

Here are the 13 qualifying chronic or debilitating medical conditions as laid out in the EBCI Chapter 17 program:

  1. Acquired immune deficiency syndrome
  2. An anxiety disorder
  3. An autism spectrum disorder
  4. An autoimmune disease
  5. Anorexia nervosa
  6. Cancer
  7. Dependence upon or addiction to opioids
  8. Glaucoma
  9. A medical condition or treatment for a medical condition that produces, for a specific patient, one or more of the following: cachexia; muscle spasms, including, without limitation, spasms caused by multiple sclerosis; seizures, including, without limitation, seizures caused by epilepsy; nausea; severe or chronic pain
  10. A medical condition related to the human immunodeficiency virus
  11. A neuropathic condition, whether or not such condition causes seizures
  12. Any other medical condition or treatment for a medical condition that is: classified as a chronic or debilitating medical condition by regulation of the board; approved as a chronic or debilitating medical condition pursuant to a petition submitted in accordance with Section 17-99.
  13. Post-traumatic stress disorder
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You can read more on EBCI's Chapter 17 by hovering over the link.

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