London

Oneida grapples with cannabis sales while on the road to regulation

The chief and council of Oneida Nation of the Thames, a community south of London, want to ensure the safety of their First Nation’s members who have been subjected to increased sales of cannabis in the community.

First Nation's council issuing suspensions at the beginning of May

About a dozen cannabis stores have popped up on Oneida, according to chief Hill. (David Horemans/CBC)

The chief and council of Oneida Nation of the Thames, a community south of London, want to ensure the safety of their First Nation's members who have been subjected to increased sales of cannabis in the community.

Council, which only supports the sale of medicinal cannabis, is in the early phases of establishing rules and regulations around the sale and distribution of cannabis. It's also coming up with requirements that would allow pot shops to operate legally as Oneida band recognized stores.

However, since last October, when the federal government legalized recreational cannabis, Oneida has seen up to a dozen pot shops open in and around the community, according to elected chief Jessica Hill.

Council is trying to proactively "work with [the store owners]" to take steps toward legalization and regulation in the community.

However, recent challenges have forced council to enforce stricter rules around the sale of cannabis starting May 1.

Suspensions

Council has long rejected the sale of recreational cannabis, alcohol and other illicit drugs.
Jessica Hill is the elected chief of Oneida Nation of the Thames. (Submitted)

However, Hill said council supports businesspeople who want to economically benefit from the medicinal cannabis market — especially following legalization and increased regulated sales everywhere.

Back in January, owners of unregulated businesses were given a list of safety measures to follow while council worked on a plan for regulation.

However, Hill said she's noticed some business owners are selling cannabis in variety store establishments, which is a practice she finds problematic.

"Children are no longer safe to go to variety stores because some business owners are mixing the selling of cannabis with other goods that they would sell in a variety store," she said.

"We want to ensure that no one under the age of 19 is able to go into these establishments that sell cannabis and that they should be separate businesses from variety stores," she added.

She said all stores have also attracted flocks of outsiders to Oneida.

To help ensure the safety of the community, Hill said council will no longer economically support variety stores that are linked to both recreational and medicinal cannabis, alcohol and drug sales.

As of May 1, impacted businesses will have their cigarette quota and gas tax exemption suspended. Council will also suspend those businesses' rights to custom work and public works services and band generated business.

"We want to live in a safe community. We want to raise our children in a safe community. We want to ensure there is public safety for all members," said Hill.

Council informed the community of the suspensions through a letter in late March.  

Hill said the suspensions will remain in place until impacted business owners have met with council to find solutions.

"We want to work with them. We don't want to just impose things on people," Hill said. "[We] are trying to say to the community, there's a better way to do things."

Marijuana has been legal in Canada since October 2018. (The Associated Press)

She said there is no current plan to shut down the shops.

Next steps

A number of First Nations are also grappling with the outcomes of cannabis legalization.

"It really varies from community to community," said Joel Abram, grand chief of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians.

He said some communities may have zero cannabis stores while others could have between 40 and 50, for example.

"We weren't given resources to come up with our own guidelines, regulations and laws to put in place so that everybody was in synchronicity when legalization happened," he said.

Some First Nations leaders have argued Indigenous communities should get a cut of the revenue expected from legalization.

Abram said it's up to each individual community to come up with its own regulation process.

Meanwhile, Oneida council is set to meet with business owners and community members to talk about issues pertaining to cannabis in their community.

Council will also strike up a commission that will focus on testing cannabis flowing through the community.

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