The tribal council for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians voted on Thursday to approve an ordinance that legalizes medical marijuana on tribal lands. The vote applies to the tribe’s lands known as the Qualla Boundary, which covers 100 square miles over five counties in western North Carolina.

Cannabis is still illegal in North Carolina, although possession of less than one ounce is punishable by only a fine. The move by the council will make the tribe’s sovereign lands the only place within the state’s borders where marijuana can be legally possessed.

Before the council’s vote, Principal Chief Richard Sneed said that the new ordinance is the first of several steps to fully legalize medical marijuana.

“There’s so much science now supporting cannabis as a medicine,” Sneed told the tribal council. “This really is a quality of life issue as well for folks who have debilitating diseases, chronic pain, chronic back pain, cancer.”

“This is really just the first step, or kind of the cornerstone of moving toward medicinal. We have to have this in place first,” he added.

The council voted to remove a provision of the ordinance that would have allowed tribal members to give away but not sell small quantities of cannabis.

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