New Brunswick

Cannabis sales should be legal in First Nations communities, former chief says

The federal government should collaborate with First Nations communities on cannabis sales, according to the former Ontario regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations.

First Nations communities weren't consulted when the Cannabis Act was being established

Former chief Isadore Day said First Nations communities have the right to sell cannabis. (CBC)

The former Ontario regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations. is asking the federal government to legalize the sale of cannabis in First Nations communities.

Isadore Day of Sault Ste. Marie said Indigenous communities weren't consulted when legalization was in the works, so they went ahead and set up dispensaries, which they consider legitimate.

"We're not black market," Day, who is now CEO of an Indigenous consulting organization called Bimaadzwin, told Information Morning Fredericton.

"We just haven't been legitimized by Canada's cannabis framework as of yet."

Cannabis NB CEO Patrick Parent has blamed illegal cannabis sales for its lack of profit in its first year of sales.

There are at least 50 illegal cannabis sales operations in the province, more than double the 20 legal Cannabis NB stores, Parent said. Many of the illegal sellers are full retail stores operating openly or advertising online.

In New Brunswick, purchasing cannabis from anywhere besides Cannabis NB is illegal — that includes dispensaries in First Nations communities.

Tobique First Nation and St. Mary's First Nation each have dispensaries operating illegally, but Day doesn't think they should be categorized as such.

When the Cannabis Act was being considered last year, Day said, First Nations communities weren't consulted, although he sees consultation as an inherent treaty right.

He'd like to work with the federal government to create a First Nations model for cannabis sales that would allow those communities to sell legally.

"It's something that you can bet the federal government is going to want to address with this new government after Nov. 20, with the swearing in of the new federal cabinet," he said. "We will be very quickly at the doorstep and at the table with the federal government on this issue."

This could be the answer to poverty in our communities.- Isadore Day, former AFN chief

Sydney Paul, the director of economic development at Kingsclear First Nation, said Indigenous communities should be allowed to grow and sell cannabis.

The band council has already started looking into the possible sale and production of cannabis in the community, but nothing is concrete.

"This is a good way to work toward self-sustaining ourselves," Paul said, adding that it would create jobs, bring in revenue and build relationships between communities.

Day said in order to legitimize the sale of cannabis in First Nations communities, there will need to be legislative changes. 

"In the meantime, we are looking at a policy framework that begins to get everybody dialoguing in the right direction, in the same direction, and ultimately saying, 'let's ensure that First Nation cannabis is safe [so] we can track it,'" he said.

Day said if First Nations communities were given the legal opportunity to sell cannabis, they could put the revenue toward services they're lacking.

"We are always stuck under the policy framework and the horsetrading that happens region by region with the Indigenous Services Canada fighting on our behalf to get a piece of the resources in this country," he said.

Day said that by legalizing the sale of cannabis in First Nations communities be a step toward reconciliation.

"This is an opportunity for the federal government to make good on reconciliation … this could be the answer to poverty in our communities, you know, make good with it to help eradicate poverty and to build economy and to have other spinoff benefits."

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Isadore Day as an Assembly of First Nations chief. In fact, Day is no longer the regional chief for Ontario. He now serves as CEO for Bimaadzwin.
    Nov 19, 2019 9:37 PM AT

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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