Council approves $64 million for Medical Cannabis business
EBCI (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) Enterprises, LLC will receive $64 million for its medical cannabis business for operational costs including staffing, increased infrastructure at its grow site, and to finish a retail facility.
The money, approved by Tribal Council during its regular meeting on Thursday, April 6, will come from the Tribe’s Investment Accounts and General Fund.
Council approved a substitute for Res. No. 496 (2023) which states “a critical part of the EBCI’s medical cannabis structure are staffing and infrastructure”. The legislation goes on to state, “…the EBCI will see a return on their investment within the first year of retail operations.” This measure is pending ratification from Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed.
Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy made the motion to the pass the resolution which did so by a margin of 63-31 (6 absent). The four dissenting votes were from Wolftown Rep. Michael Parker, Painttown Rep. Dike Sneed, Painttown Rep. Michael Stamper, and Yellowhill Rep. David Wolfe. Cherokee Co. – Snowbird Rep. Adam Wachacha was absent.
The original version of Res. No. 496 first came to the Council floor in January when it was tabled due to a lengthy discussion at the time surrounding a memo from the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) which prohibits the use of gaming funds for the project. Council approved funding in the amount of $10 million for the operation in December 2022.
On Thursday, Rep. McCoy emphasized the need for the project to continue, “These are your people. They’re right here at home. Have no fear about this…we can do this. We just have to be brave and do it.”
Rep. Wolfe was clear in his opposition, “What really worries me is the NIGC bulletin, and we’ve still not gotten a clear picture on it. Everyone sitting around this horseshoe knows how much this tribal government depends on that casino up there and the funds that come from it – the school system, the hospital, this government…”
During the debate on the issue on Thursday, prior to passage there was discussion of the Tribe guaranteeing a loan for the business.
Carolyn West, Qualla Enterprises, LLC board chairperson, simply stated, “The remainder of the $64 million – we are ok with it being a loan and we will pay it back.”
Tribal Council Chairman Albert Rose, who seconded Rep. McCoy’s move to pass, noted, “We haven’t gotten that hardly from any of our other LLCs at all – to offer to pay the money back. It’s kind of not fair that you guys would have to pay this money back anyways as we’ll be getting returns back, but they’re offering to do that where the other LLCs aren’t like that.”
Forrest Parker, Qualla Enterprises, LLC general manager, said during the debate, “Nobody here, anybody at Qualla, from the top to the bottom, would ever in a million years propose anything that we genuinely felt would put our Tribe at risk. We’re working really hard to build a family of people that care so much about their Tribe and their community that they’re willing to stick their neck out and do something different.”
He added, “We just want to get the infrastructure we need to grow the product we need because if we can’t, we’re dead fish in the water. It’s not a policy issue Tribal Council. We talked about this. It’s an agriculture issue.”
Parker further noted, “This room is full of politics. The community is full of love. So, out there we feel amazing. It’s the greatest opportunity of our lives to be doing what we’re doing because the community embraces us…we’re not here to convert people. We’re here to bring something, and if it is not good for you, maybe it’ll be good for someone else.”
During an interview with the One Feather in November 2022, Parker commented on the growing business, “When the cannabis business is fully operational, we will have about 400-500 total jobs. It’s a very impactful employment opportunity for this community as well. These employees are learning jobs that will be high-paying, skilled jobs in all aspects of cannabis.”
The retail facility will be located in the old Tribal Bingo Building.
With the passage of Ord. No. 539 (2021) on July 8, 2021, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians legalized the allowance of “medicinal use of small amounts of marijuana”. That legislation also created the EBCI Cannabis Advisory Commission which was created “for the purposes of studying issues related to cannabis and making recommendations to the EBCI Cannabis Control Board” as well as creating the EBCI Cannabis Control Board itself – a give-member Board.
Tribal Council further approved funding for the Cannabis Control Board in the form of Res. No. 421 (2022) which allocates a budget for Fiscal Year 2023 of $984,000 “to be paid from non-net distributable gaming revenues from the Fund Balance of the General Fund as best determined by the EBCI Division of Finance”. Qualla Enterprises, LLC was established on March 13, 2022.
On medical cannabis, information from the Mayo Clinic states, “Studies report that medical cannabis has possible benefit for several conditions. Some of those include: Alzheimer’s disease, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy and seizures, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and muscle spasms, severe and chronic pain, and severe nausea and vomiting caused by cancer treatment.”