Agribition panelists encourage Sask. First Nations to explore economic potential of cannabis production

Cannabis has been a hot topic all year — and a Wednesday panel discussion at the Western Canadian Agribition aimed to explore the economic potential for First Nations communities following legalization of recreational pot.

'A lot of moving parts' for First Nations interested in growing cannabis, Cowessess chief says

Trevor Fencott, CEO of cannabis retailer Fire and Flower, and George Robinson, CEO of RavenQuest, were two panelists during a panel discussion called Economic Opportunity: Cannabis in Canada. The panel was part of Wednesday's Indigenous Agriculture Summit at Regina's Canadian Western Agrabition. (Bryan Eneas/CBC News)

Cannabis has been a hot topic all year — and a Wednesday panel discussion at the Western Canadian Agribition aimed to explore the economic potential for First Nations communities following legalization of recreational pot.

The annual livestock show and agriculture festival, which kicked off at Evraz Place in Regina on Monday, featured an Indigenous Agriculture Summit on Wednesday, which provided leaders and band members from across the province an opportunity to discuss various aspects of Indigenous agriculture — including cannabis.

Two panelists took questions from attendees during a panel discussion called Economic Opportunity: Cannabis in Canada, which was part of Wednesday's Indigenous Agriculture Summit.

George Robinson from RavenQuest BioMed, a licensed cannabis producer, was part of the panel. He said his company has been trying to include Indigenous communities in the cannabis industry for three years.

"[Indigenous people] have worked with herbal plants their whole lives, as far as time goes back," Robinson said.

"Bringing cannabis in as another herbal therapy we can use, it's a starting point [from which] we can actually take a look at harm reduction and social impact."

He noted cannabis is a possible treatment for depression and anxiety, and could be an alternative to other drugs.

Indigenous farmers considering cannabis crops

Robinson said cannabis also provides an avenue for economic development for Indigenous communities. He noted a need for more producers during the panel discussion.

Agrologist Ken Bear, who works with the Ochapowace Cree First Nation in southeastern Saskatchewan, said he sees the plant as a way to further diversify the band's crop portfolio, while answering the production needs that exist.

"It sounds like they need more in the market — they need somebody to produce it," Bear said.

"When I think of the First Nations lands, specifically in Ochap, if there's demand for a certain crop, that's something we look at market-wise."

Bear said he sees agriculture as one of the pillars of society, but Indigenous people are underrepresented in many areas of the agricultural production.

He said he's interested in looking into cannabis as a potential crop for the band.

There is still groundwork and research that needs to be done on the band's part, he said, including the costs involved for the band in growing cannabis.

Social responsibilities must be considered

Lorne Ross Kinistino, who works alongside Bear, said he is also in favour of pursuing cannabis as a cash crop, and called for Indigenous people to be key players in decision-making processes.

He also called for money generated from cannabis production to be set aside to address "problems that are already there," while making sure monies are accessible for bands that may be struggling.

Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme also raised the issue of social responsibility with the panelists.

Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme told CBC News his community is in constant consultation with youths and elders to figure out how to proceed with regard to cannabis. (Bryan Eneas/CBC News)

"We're on a healing journey and we're starting to assert our prosperity and our rights, but with that comes some of the intergenerational trauma," Delorme said, adding he wants to find out how to address the stigma around cannabis as a gateway drug.

Delorme said conversations around cannabis are very intense for some communities, and the Agribition panel around the plant helped clear some of the questions he had.  

The chief said Cowessess has a lot of land that was purchased for one reason — economic development. He was non-committal on whether that land will be used for growing or selling cannabis.

He said the band did enter the provincial lottery for a retail cannabis store licence, but was unsuccessful.

"Right now we're addressing our pros and cons, and at the same time addressing our social responsibility," Delorme said.

"Not externally, but more internally, with what our elders consider pros and cons to cannabis, what our youth understand of it — there's just a lot of moving parts."

With files from Christy Climenhaga