After months of stalemate, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians appears ready to advance its cannabis enterprise. During its Jan. 4 meeting, Tribal Council passed a long-debated funding resolution for Qualla Enterprises and introduced an ordinance that would legalize cannabis use for adults 21 and older. While the dispensary on Bingo Loop Road is not yet open, signs are up along U.S. 19 pointing the way to the Great Smoky Cannabis Company entrance around the back of the old bingo hall.
Between March 2022 and December 2023, the tribe invested $34 million in its cannabis enterprise — a large amount that nevertheless fell short of the additional $50 million the company had asked for in December 2022. A year ago, Qualla Enterprises had expected to begin retail sales of medical cannabis by summer 2023, but so far, it has yet to produce any revenues. This is due not only to its uncertain funding situation but also to the fact that transporting cannabis between the farm on Coopers Creek and the dispensary on the main Qualla Boundary requires crossing a short distance of county-controlled road, where cannabis is still illegal.
When Principal Chief Michell Hicks took office in October, one of the first pieces of legislation he introduced was a resolution proposing an additional $19 million for Qualla Enterprises — but as a loan to be repaid with interest rather than as a simple allocation. However, he recommended that Tribal Council keep the resolution tabled while he worked out some additional details. In November, Hicks requested the body’s approval for $3 million in stop-gap funding to keep the business operational. To get the rest of the $19 million, that resolution said, Qualla Enterprises would have to provide a final independent auditor’s report, product transportation plan and product testing plan, and complete “good faith negotiations” on the management agreement with vendor Sovereign Solutions Carolina.
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