NC's first cannabis dispensary will open soon. Who will be able to buy marijuana?

ASHEVILLE - While remaining in federal limbo and not legalized on the state-level, marijuana is still coming to North Carolina — just in a different way.

After the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians approved the adult use of recreational marijuana in September 2023, the first legal cannabis dispensary in North Carolina is set to open on ECBI land within the next two months.

The opening date will be on 4/20, according to Qualla Enterprises Human Resources Director Lee Griffin.

"That's the national cannabis holiday," Griffin said during a Feb. 28 Tribal Council work session on the adult use ordinance that would allow the recreational purchase of marijuana.

"It's the biggest revenue date annually. It's like New Year's Eve at the casino."

The dispensary, Great Smoky Cannabis Company, will open at 91 Bingo Loop Road.

However, the number of people eligible to purchase marijuana on the day of opening could be limited to those who have medical marijuana cards since legislation to allow adult recreational use of marijuana has still not been passed by the Tribal Council.

The size of the company also depends on whether recreational marijuana legislation is passed.

With the current medical marijuana model, the dispensary would have "about 78 positions," but that number rapidly increases to over 350 employees if the dispensary is able to immediately open with recreational use, Griffin said.

Qualla Enterprises Human Resources Director Lee Griffin speaks on the opening of the Great Smoky Cannabis Company at 91 Bingo Loop Road.
Qualla Enterprises Human Resources Director Lee Griffin speaks on the opening of the Great Smoky Cannabis Company at 91 Bingo Loop Road.

"We've got roughly 45 days til opening," Griffin said. "There's some onboarding time that we have to get each person in."

One Tribal Council member noted that current projects indicate the market doing favorably — possibly allowing the addition of new staff members.

"If we start really taking off like the projections say, then we can hire more. Right?" Tribal Councilmember Tom Wahnetah said during the meeting.

Forrest Parker, General Manager of Qualla Enterprises LLC, speaks during the Feb. 28 work session on the Eastern Band of Cherokee's adult use marijuana ordinance.
Forrest Parker, General Manager of Qualla Enterprises LLC, speaks during the Feb. 28 work session on the Eastern Band of Cherokee's adult use marijuana ordinance.

Transportation of product? Fly it.

In an October work session with the ECBI-backed dispensary company, Qualla Enterprises LLC, Tribal Council Chairman Mike Parker noted the company had not been generating revenue on their reported $30 million in product as the company couldn't currently transport products to the dispensary.

Now, a plan to fly marijuana products from the Coopers Creek farm to the dispensary off Bingo Loop Road could allow the dispensary to open.

"We currently have two forms of transportation approved by the [Cannabis Control Board]," said Qualla Enterprises General Manager Forrest Parker. "One is an aviation plan; the other one is the roadways we discussed."

The Drug Enforcement Administration currently classifies marijuana as a "Schedule I" drug under the Controlled Substances Act, alongside heroin, LSD and ecstasy. The drug is illegal both federally and in North Carolina.

The recent move to legalize marijuana on ECBI land has also seen some reaction from a regional congressman.

After the September vote on recreational legalization, WNC Congressman Chuck Edwards introduced the Stop Pot Act to congress as a direct response to the ECBI's move.

The bill would withhold federal funding from states and tribes that permit the use of recreational marijuana — setting up a faceoff between the ECBI and Edwards.

How do you qualify for a medical cannabis patient card?

Since the region's first taste of marijuana — also known as cannabis or weed — may only apply to those who qualify, here's a refresher on the rules for the region.

In order to qualify for a card, you must be a resident of North Carolina, 21 years old, along with paying $100 for the first issuance and an additional $100 for every year the card is renewed. Payment can only be made by cash, check or money order.

Tribal marijuana law only applies to Tribal lands. Cannabis remains illegal in North Carolina and federally.

After applying, patients must submit a recent photo with a white background.

In order to medically qualify, a resident must have a medical attestation from a physician that they have one of 18 qualifying conditions. No prescription is needed.

You can learn more at:

Here are the conditions which qualify patients for a medical cannabis patient card:

Conditions for a medical cannabis patient card

  • Acquired immune deficiency syndromes.

  • Anxiety disorders.

  • Autism spectrum disorder.

  • An autoimmune disease.

  • Anorexia nervosa.

  • Cancer.

  • Dependence upon or addiction to opioids.

  • Glaucoma.

  • A medical condition relate to the human immunodeficiency virus.

  • A neuropathic condition, whether or not such condition causes seizures.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • Crohn's disease.

  • Sickle cell anemia.

  • Amyotrophic lateral syndrome.

  • Parkinson's disease.

  • A condition resulting in the patient receiving hospice care.

  • 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; or severe or chronic pain.

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Will Hofmann is the Growth and Development Reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. Got a tip? Email him at Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: NC's first marijuana dispensary set to open soon. What to know