Tribe’s cannabis dispensary set to open on 4/20

by Mar 1, 2024NEWS ka-no-he-da0 comments


One Feather Asst. Editor


CHEROKEE, N.C. – The first cannabis dispensary in the State of North Carolina will open next month in Cherokee, N.C. The Great Smoky Cannabis Company, operated by Qualla Enterprises, LLC, an entity of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, will open on Saturday, April 20 (4/20).

The Great Smoky Cannabis Company, operated by Qualla Enterprises, LLC, an entity of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, will open on Saturday, April 20 (4/20). This photo shows a portion of the dispensary which is in the former Cherokee Tribal Bingo Building. (SCOTT MCKIE B.P./One Feather photos)

Lee Griffin, Qualla Enterprises human resources director, confirmed the opening date to Tribal Council during a work session on Wednesday, Feb. 28.  “That’s the National Cannabis holiday,” he said.

Griffin spoke mainly about staffing for the new dispensary which is located at 91 Bingo Loop Road – the site of the now-defunct Cherokee Tribal Bingo operation.  He told Tribal Council that they’ve received over 1,400 applications from people desiring to work at the dispensary.

The number needed and hired will depend on one key factor – whether the dispensary will open as a medical cannabis facility or an adult use facility.

“We’ve got two models that we’ve been going through – a medical and an adult model,” said Griffin.  “Right now, we’ve been really conservative as far as the medical model.  We’re looking at about 78 positions.  That’s 23 different job titles.”

That number increases more than four times if looking at the adult model.  “Now, if we open to an adult market, the hiring model looks much different.  It’s over 350 positions.  So, we hope to open to an adult market on opening day.”

The idea of a medical market versus an adult market was the impetus for the work session on Wednesday.  The session was held to discuss Tabled Ord. No. 63 which seeks to amend Cherokee Code Chapter 17, which is currently titled ‘Medical Marijuana’, and changing it to be titled ‘Cannabis’ and making all of the changes within the ordinance to allow for adult use, sometimes referred to as recreational use, of cannabis.

Elawodi (Yellowhill) Rep. Tom Wahnetah asked Griffin, “If we’re late to getting all of this passed into the adult use, you can still open with the limited amount of employees you’ve got right?”

Griffin answered, “We can. That’s why we built two models.”

Rep. Wahnetah then said, “And, if we start really taking off like the projections say, then we can hire more.”

The following referendum question appeared on the 2023 EBCI General Election ballot, “Do you support legalizing the possession and use of cannabis for persons who are at least twenty-one (21) years old and require the EBCI Tribal Council to develop legislation to regulate the market?”

The referendum, which was held on Sept. 7, 2023, passed 2,464 (yes) to 1,057 (no).

Currently, Qualla Enterprises, LLC employes 69 people – 74 percent of whom are EBCI tribal members.  That number increases to a whopping 91 percent of employees at the cannabis farm in Tsisqwohi (Birdtown) are EBCI tribal members.

“We’re very proud of that,” Griffin told Tribal Council on Wednesday.  “And, we hope to continue that trend as we move forward.”

In July 2023, the One Feather toured the cannabis farm and spoke with many of the employees.  One was Erica Watty, an EBCI tribal member working in one of the hoop houses doing plant audits.  She told the One Feather at the time, “I feel awesome everyday just to wake up and know this is my job.  This is the only job that I’ve never woken up and dreaded thinking ‘oh, I’ve got to go to work.  I’m growing medicine.  I’m going to help people on our land.  I think it means everything in the world to me.”