First Nations leaders are insisting they have the right to manage and oversee the distribution of legal marijuana on their land.
At the annual conference of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), there were varying opinions on the Canadian government’s plan to legalize marijuana by July of this year. But there was one area in which all agreed: The First Nations, not provincial or federal governments, should legislate the use and sale of cannabis on reserves.
Legal cannabis may not solve every problem that Indigenous communities face, but as a new revenue stream, it can bring jobs and economic growth to some of the most vulnerable areas in Canada. Marijuana sold on First Nations land could be tax exempt, like tobacco, but the federal and provincial governments haven’t addressed multiple issues, leaving Indigenous leaders pushing for answers.
A Rush to Legalization
The July legalization deadline countdown is on. Many in the assembly noted their discomfort with the short timeline and asked the AFN to request a delay in Bill C-45 so they have more time to prepare. Others are embracing the change, and while they are looking forward to sharing in the tax dollars and profit that will come with legalization, they would like a say on what happens on First Nations land.
The AFN has created a committee to make sure they have the legislative support they need to have their concerns heard. The committee, made up of the Ontario and Quebec Regional Chiefs, is documenting and addressing the health, societal, and economic issues reserves will face after legalization.
As it stands now, Bill C-45 doesn’t mention how legalization would work on First Nations land. There’s no breakdown of who is in charge of cannabis sales and how taxes will be controlled. This ambiguity is frustrating Indigenous communities all over the country who are thrilled at the prospect of legal cannabis but need time build a sales structure and set regulations before the July deadline.
While the government is allowing provinces to make up their own mind on details such as legal age to purchase marijuana, many of the First Nations may not feel bound to provincial regulations. Every First Nations community is unique, with some of the smaller, more isolated reserves resisting the changes due to little chance of cashing in on the marijuana boom. Other communities can see the benefit of selling cannabis on their land but want control over the implementation, sale, and distribution.
Some First Nations Communities Charging Ahead
While meetings continue among First Nations leaders, Ottawa, and individual provinces, some communities are forging their own path to take advantage of new legalization.
Five Manitoba First Nations communities have partnered with National Access Cannabis, an established chain of marijuana clinics, and are preparing to open retail locations on reserve land. These types of partnerships are sure to become more popular with Indigenous communities working with reputable organizations to bring legal cannabis to treaty land. This allows each Indigenous population to manage its own cannabis sales while aligning with companies that are well ahead in production and distribution.
As we get closer to the legalization deadline, watch for continued discussion between Indigenous leaders and the government to ensure that Bill C-45 includes these communities in the cannabis revolution. In the meantime, established cannabis producers, distributors, and sellers would benefit from working with First Nations leaders to prepare every reserve for legalization.