Today, Canada’s legal federal cannabis industry came online, marking a historic moment for the cannabis movement. However, not everyone is excited about the government’s new regulations. For one, the federal government’s cannabis regulations that are now in effect don’t recognize the sovereignty of the country’s First Nations.
The main issue is that, under Canada’s new pot laws in the Cannabis Act, authority must run through either the provinces, territories or Ottawa. If a First Nation wants to take part in Canada’s newest legal industry, they must be licensed through one of those three government entities. But some First Nations are set on determining their own regulations around cannabis and don’t agree with this layout of things.
Sakimay First Nation Chief Lynn Acoose told the CBC that her and the council plan on developing their own plan for what legal marijuana will look like in their corner of southeast Saskatchewan. Due to the tribe opting out of the regulatory oversight they would have needed to have dispensaries open their doors to adults, it’s one of the few places that wasn’t expecting big crowds on Wednesday as legalization hit the rest of Canada.
“We’re just going our own way,” Acoose told CBC. “I think that the compromises that we’ve had to make in the past have weakened our ability to determine our own economic future.”
Acoose said they are not prepared to recognize the jurisdiction of the province on reserve.
“It’s always been a one-sided agreement with the province holding all of the power and being able to regulate over us, so we’re not interested in that kind of relationship this time,” she said.
While the CBC reports that recent polling results of the Sakimay First Nation want the community to take part in the cannabis industry, Acoose and the council would not see the process put a dent in their sovereignty.
Dwight Newman, the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Rights at the University of Saskatchewan, said currently things were a little bit of a mess for First Nation people wanting to get in on the money without feeling like they were submitting to the will of Ottawa.
“I think at this point, [governments] should be continuing to consult with First Nations and to consider necessary statutory changes in order that the law can be functional and meet everyone’s needs,” Newman told the CBC.
There are, of course, two ends to the spectrum. Some First Nation tribes are looking to get involved in the cannabis industry, despite the fact they’ll have to defer to provincial governments. The Peguis First Nation is one of those entering the cannabis industry. In February, they received conditional approval and, today, they are pitching a facility that could employ between 150 and 200 people locally.
“We have entered into all aspects of the cannabis industry — from production, to retail, to medicinal, even into the area of hemp,” Peguis First Nation Chief Glenn Hudson told the CBC, as the tribe prepares to be a big player in Manitoba cannabis.
Hudson is now looking at plans for a 100,000 square foot facility. When the Peguis held a town hall on the subject, 300 people showed up, the CBC reported. Only two spoke out against the plan that would be one of the largest grows in Manitoba.
While things look good in Manitoba, there is still plenty of work to be done, especially in including the range of views First Nations peoples have on regulation, according to comments Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde gave to CBC.
“First Nations have the right to decide if they want to participate in this new economic sector,” said Bellegarde. “We will continue to work with governments and advocate for First Nations-led approaches to ensure community safety, health and well-being for our families and youth.”
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