Tribe in North Carolina Votes to Legalize Recreational Cannabis, Sparking Debate

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A tribe in western North Carolina recently approved recreational cannabis, resulting in proposed federal legislation in response.

On September 7, 2023, over 70% voters on the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) reservation approved to legalize possession and use of cannabis for adults, according to unofficial results (1). Official results from the general election are expected next month, but stood at 2464 people voting yes, and 1057 voting no. (2).

In 2021, the tribe approved of the possession of small amounts of cannabis and had created a medical cannabis program and tribe-run business (1).

“It’ll bring a lot of tourism and a lot of money into our tribe,” said one voter when interviewed about the recent vote (2).


“I think it can help some people, but I’m also afraid that some people are going to take advantage of the system like they do any other system,” another voter said (2).

In response to the EBCI vote, North Carolina Representative Chuck Edwards introduced the Stop the Pot Act earlier this month, which intends to withhold certain federal funding from states and tribes that allow cannabis for recreational purposes (3). “The laws of any government should not infringe on the overall laws of our nation, and federal funds should not be awarded to jurisdictions that willfully ignore federal law,” he stated (2). “During a time when our communities are seeing unprecedented crime, drug addiction, and mental illness, the Stop Pot Act will help prevent even greater access to drugs and ease the strain placed on our local law enforcement and mental health professionals who are already stretched thin.” The legislation would not apply to jurisdictions that allow medical cannabis (3).

With the EBCI vote, the 89-square mile Qualla Boundary would become the only place in North Carolina where sales of recreational cannabis would be legal (3). Cannabis for medical purposes is allowed in the state under very restricted situations (4).

Already underway is construction of a large dispensary, expected to employ 400 people and offer around 350 products (2). Sales of medical cannabis products should reportedly begin this December, and recreational use could begin in less than 18 months (1). Regulation of the market will be up to the tribal council (1).


  1. Voters in North Carolina tribe back adult use of marijuana in referendum (accessed Sep 13, 2023).
  2. Faherty, D. Western NC reservation votes to legalize possession of marijuana (accessed Sep 13, 2023).
  3. Edwards Introduces Legislation to Uphold Federal Marijuana Laws. Congressman Chuck Edwards Representing North Carolina’s 11th District. September 1, 2023.
  4. North Carolina low THC LAW (accessed Sep 13, 2023).