Dene Nation calls on feds to postpone legalizing cannabis for at least 2 years

Dene leaders gathered in Deline, N.W.T., for a special leadership meeting say communities are not ready for legalized cannabis.

Potential harm of cannabis in communities compared to scourge of alcohol

K’atl’odeeche First Nation Chief Roy Fabian made an impassioned plea for Dene leaders to support postponing legalized cannabis across the nation. (Hilary Bird/CBC)

The Dene Nation has asked the Liberal government to postpone legalizing cannabis for at least two years. A resolution to that effect was passed today at a special Dene Nation leadership meeting in Deline, N.W.T.

Chiefs gathered say the communities they represent in the Northwest Territories are not ready for legalized cannabis, even while acknowledging its ready availability in those same communities.

K'atl'odeeche First Nation Chief Roy Fabian made an impassioned plea for Dene leaders to oppose legalized cannabis.

He said communities are making headway battling the alcohol abuse that ravaged many of his generation, and now is not the time to upset that progress by legalizing another drug.

"There's a whole bunch of us that are clean and sober," Fabian said. "We can tell the young people ... don't do it. Don't listen to Trudeau. Don't listen to the government. Because they don't have anything good in mind for you. They just want to create more problems for you."

Fabian and other leaders fear legalizing the drug will inevitably make it more available for youth in communities, regardless of any legislated legal minimum age. He fears cannabis could have the destructive impact alcohol has had in First Nations communities.

Leaders at the meeting said they need to take action to stop the drug — legal or not — from getting into their communities.

It's unclear how the Dene leadership plans to lobby the federal and territorial governments. That job ultimately falls to the Dene National Chief. Current Chief Bill Erasmus is stepping down mid July, so much of the work will fall on his successor.

The precursor to the Dene Nation was formed in 1969 as the Indian Brotherhood of the Northwest Territories and renamed in 1978.

With files from Hilary Bird