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Canadian Indigenous Communities Close Cannabis And Smoke Shops Amid Outbreak

Despite the businesses closing, non-native Canadians are still trying to get in.

Canada Licenses First Indigenous Owned and Operated Medical Marijuana Facility
Soru Epotok/ Shutterstock

Mohawk communities in Canada have closed their cannabis dispensaries and tobacco shops in an effort to reduce the flow of visitors amid the continuing outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. But despite the move, non-Indigenous people continue to visit, worrying residents that the virus will show up in their communities.

The Mohawk Council of Kanesatake, northwest of Montreal, ordered all stores that sell cannabis, alcohol, and tobacco to close until further notice. The move was taken to improve social distancing and protect the people of the community from infection.

“COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire around the world. We’re not immune to it,” said grand chief Serge Otsi Simon.

“We demanded that they shut down because the excess traffic coming from Ontario and Montreal was posing a direct threat to our community,” he added. “We’re more at risk, more than 50 percent of our community members having underlying conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and immune system problems.”

Clifton Nicholas, the owner of Green Devil, a Kanesatake cannabis dispensary, said that he supports the order and closed his store two weeks ago. He put up signs announcing the closure and even blocked the entrance to the shop, but people from outside the community keep coming anyway. He asked that people from outside the community respect the measures that have been taken to protect public health.

“To our Quebecois clientele, we love you, respect you,” Nicholas said. “And in respecting and loving you, we ask that you stay home for our sake, and your sake.”

Got A Smoke?

At Kahnawake, on the banks of the St. Lawrence River south of Montreal, officials ordered all tobacco shops and factories in the community to close on March 21. Chris Deere, the owner of Rover & Daisy’s Country Store, said that people disappointed by the closure of several nearby tobacco shops have ended up at his home as they continued their search for cigarettes.

“I’ve had customers trying to buy tobacco while I was standing in the yard, talking on the phone just trying to get some fresh air,” said Deere. “I’m standing in the dark, in the shadows, and this guy is walking down the road at 9 p.m. asking if it’s open.”

Deere said that his store has been closed for a week. As a volunteer firefighter, he’s practicing social distancing, even with his own family.

“The people coming to the cigarette stores are nothing new, but this whole situation just makes it surreal,” he said. “We’re trying to lock ourselves down so that people don’t get sick and people are wandering around trying to get cigarettes.”

Despite the efforts, COVID-19 has still made its way into Kahnawake. On Tuesday, health officials announced that five cases of the virus had been diagnosed in the community, including one worker at the local hospital.

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