US senators ‘attack’ North Carolina tribe’s soon-to-open marijuana store

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A Native American tribe is accusing North Carolina’s two Republican U.S. senators of launching an “inflammatory… frontal attack” on tribal sovereignty after the politicians contacted federal and state law enforcement about the Natives’ impending marijuana store.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are planning to open the Great Smoky Cannabis Co. on April 20 on the Qualla Boundary, a 57,000-acre tract of land west of Asheville.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (ECBI) legalized medical marijuana in 2021 and then approved adult use last year.

The tribe said in October it was ready to issue MMJ patient cards. All North Carolina residents are allowed to apply for the MMJ cards, according to the Cherokee One Feather news outlet.

According to Greenville, South Carolina, TV station WHNS, the impending ECBI marijuana store’s opening prompted U.S. Sens Thom Thillis and Ted Budd to send a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Drug Enforcement Administration chief Anne Milgram as well as state and local law enforcement officials.

The Republicans’ letter asked pointed questions about the legality of the situation and how the EBCI’s marijuana business would be policed.

“As our nation is facing an unprecedented drug crisis that is harming our communities, it is vital to learn what measures your departments and agencies are taking to uphold current federal and state laws,” Thillis and Budd wrote.

“This matter raises multiple questions on how North Carolina communities will be kept safe.”

It’s not clear whether authorities responded to the senators, but the tribe hit back.

“This letter was replete with misinformation and inflammatory language that promote fear and misunderstanding,” tribal spokesperson Sheyahshe Littledave said in a statement to Spectrum News 1.

“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.”

North Carolina is one of a dwindling handful of states where neither medical nor adult-use marijuana is legal.

Though some Native American tribes have proceeded with legal cannabis industries on their reservations, the Qualla Boundary is not a reservation.

It’s privately owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians but held in trust by the federal government.

Among the questions the senators asked:

  • What are federal authorities doing to enforce federal marijuana law around the Qualla Boundary?
  • Will the local district attorney and sheriff “enforce North Carolina’s marijuana statutes”?
  • Can Indian gaming revenues be invested into cannabis?
  • Are authorities concerned that the EBCI’s cannabis enterprise will attract “transnational criminal organizations”?