Marijuana will be available to purchase in North Carolina for the first time on Saturday, which will be April 20, or 4/20.

The Great Smoky Cannabis Company, a dispensary, will start selling medical marijuana in the Qualla Boundary at 10 a.m. on Saturday. The tribal council of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians legalized medical marijuana in 2021, and plant harvesting began last year.

What You Need To Know

  • The Great Smoky Cannabis Company will open on Saturday, 4/20, marking the first time medical marijuana will be sold in North Carolina

  • The dispensary is in the Qualla Boundary, tribal land belonging to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

  • The tribe legalized medical marijuana in 2021, and harvested its first plants last year

  • Tribe members voted to legalize recreational marijuana last September, and it could be sold in tribal land soon

The new dispensary technically makes North Carolina the 39th state, on top of three territories and the District of Columbia, where medical marijuana can be purchased.

But marijuana is still illegal in North Carolina and federally. The Qualla Boundary is tribal land in the far-west corner of North Carolina, and is a sovereign nation with its own laws and court system. Marijuana will only be legal and can only be used on tribal land.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will also soon make North Carolina the 25th state where recreational marijuana can be purchased.

Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians overwhelmingly approved use of marijuana on tribal land by anyone age 21 or over last September. The vote will make the tribal land the first place in North Carolina where recreational marijuana can be purchased and used.

The Tribal Council is still discussing rules for recreational marijuana, so as of April 20, which is marked by supporters of legalization as a day to highlight and celebrate cannabis use, The Great Smoky Cannabis Company will sell only medical marijuana.

A medical card is required to purchase marijuana on tribal land. Any N.C. resident age 21 or over with any of 18 health conditions can apply for a medical card. The dispensary will also accept valid patient cards from other states.  

Patient card applications opened last year on April 20. N.C. residents can still apply for a card online.

The Qualla Boundary is home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The land is not a reservation — instead, the tribe purchased the 57,000 acres in the 1800s.

The dispensary is a seed-to-sale operation, meaning that it grows its own marijuana, which is then made into products like vapes, edibles and flowers, all of which will be sold at the dispensary.

Qualla Enterprises, the company behind The Great Smoky Cannabis Company, is the only business licensed by the tribe to sell cannabis.

The tribe’s marijuana laws only apply to tribal land, but they have received national pushback.  

In March, North Carolina Sens. Thom Tillis and Ted Budd wrote a letter to local, state and federal law enforcement raising concerns on how state and federal laws would be upheld.

“With unclear guidance, it makes it difficult for state and local officials to uphold the rule of law in our communities. In particular, we have the responsibility to ensure our youth are shielded from untested marijuana products being produced and sold by Qualla Enterprise LLC,” the senators said in the letter.

The letter also included several questions for law enforcement, such as how the Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration would enforce federal law on marijuana cultivation and sale in and around the reservation, if federally recognized tribes are immune from state and federal enforcement and if federally recognized tribes would be able to take land into trust for the purpose of a marijuana business.

The tribe said it has been open with local and state law enforcement throughout the process.

"The Eastern Band is establishing a model for safety and responsibility in an industry that is already legal in 36 states, the District of Columbia, and tribal lands across the United States," said Sheyahshe Littledave, spokeswoman for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. "It’s a shame that Senator Tillis and Senator Budd did not respectfully communicate their concerns directly to Eastern Band Cherokee leaders, instead choosing a frontal attack on Cherokee sovereignty.”

Before the tribe’s September 2023 vote that legalized recreational marijuana on tribal land, North Carolina Rep. Chuck Edwards, whose district encompasses the Qualla Boundary, introduced the Stop Pot Act, which would withhold federal funding from states and tribes that allow the use of recreational marijuana.

The bill would withhold 10% of federal highway funding. It is currently sitting in the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.