Amid the controversies about federal versus provincial control of the cannabis biz, as Canada prepares for legalization, another jurisdictional issue has emerged. At the annual meeting of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) in Ottawa December 6, leaders of Canada’s indigenous people demanded the right to set the laws that will oversee cannabis within their own territories.
The report indicated some tension between native communities seeking a more tolerant or more restrictive approach to the herb. Some leaders said they are looking forward to sharing in the revenues that will be generated by the new industry.
Others, in contrast, actually called on the AFN to ask for a delay in the implementation of Bill C-45, which is now before Canada’s Senate, saying their communities have not had time to prepare for a legal cannabis economy and have been left out of the process.
But there was a general consensus that First Nations—not the federal or provincial governments—should determine the rules around the use and sale of cannabis on Canada’s reserves.
The AFN has called a committee—led by Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day and Quebec Regional Chief Ghislain Picard—to address the question.
“Above all, we do need to look at this from a jurisdictional lens,” Day said. “Our people are going to say, ‘Listen, we have aboriginal treaty rights, we have economic rights as First Nations people. Who is Canada to say we can’t have a dispensary in our community?'”
By way of example, Day cited the possibility of First Nations seeking a more restrictive regime.
For instance, a province may set the legal age of marijuana consumption at 18, “but what if a [First Nations] community says we want it to be 23 or 24 because the studies show that the development of a young person’s brain isn’t complete until they are in their 20s?”
Randall Phillips, chief of Oneida Nation of the Thames, near London, Ontario, went further. Stating that his community is applying for a federal license to cultivate, he struck a defiant note.
“We will decide who gets it. We will decide how it gets distributed. We will decide how it gets protected, and we are going to look at all those things. But I don’t need a regulatory framework,” he said.
He added that his community is already home to a cannabis dispensary and that the people who operate it do not believe they need a federal licence.
In comments to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Isadore Day protested the marginalization of Canada’s indigenous peoples in the political process on legalization.
“There was very little inclusion of First Nations in the development of the bill, very little consultation,” he said. “Every First Nation community has the right to choose and because the province didn’t include us in the front end, there’s no existing framework for us now going forward.”
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