No marijuana shops anytime soon, says chief of dry reserve given pot permit by province

Saskatchewan's three most populous First Nations will be allowed to sell marijuana once it's legal, but Cree leaders say community safety must come first.

Cree leaders want elders, community members to weigh in before deciding whether to sell cannabis

Onion Lake Cree Nation Chief Wallace Fox said his reserve has no immediate plans to open a cannabis retailer, because his council's current mandate is to root out gangs and illegal activity. (CBC)

The chief of Saskatchewan's biggest dry First Nation said he was surprised Monday when the province said it would allow his reserve to open a cannabis store, once marijuana is legalized.

"We didn't push this," said Wallace Fox, chief of the Onion Lake Cree Nation.

His community voted nearly 30 years ago to ban alcohol and drug use on its reserve, located 50 kilometres north of Lloydminster, by the Alberta border.

Don't expect a marijuana shop to open there anytime soon, Fox said.

"The mandate of this council is to provide a safe community to our membership," said Fox.

"There has been no consultation with the membership, the elders, and the council has not formally made any decision whether to proceed with this project or not."

Legalized weed 'a controversial issue' on-reserve

Leaders of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation and the Lac La Ronge Indian Band also tell CBC News they need to weigh the decision around selling marijuana on their land carefully.

The province said its initial allocations of marijuana retail permits went to communities and First Nations with populations of more than 2,500 people. 

"We've been working on a wellness treatment recovery centre for a number of years now," said Chief Tammy Cook-Searson of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band.

"This is a controversial issue."

Still, Cook-Searson said she's spoken with people who have used marijuana products to treat chronic pain with success, and expects her band will eventually see someone open a cannabis shop.

"I cannot see the whole community saying yes to this," said Lac La Ronge Chief Tammy Cook-Searson. "This is a controversial issue." (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

"It's something we have to look at and deliberate on," she said.

The province has asked communities of more than 2,500 people to confirm whether they intend to proceed with allowing retail marijuana sales by March 15.

"There's two sides to it, I suppose," said Chief Peter Beatty of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation.

"They talk about private entrepreneurs on reserve, so we don't really know what that means."

He said he wants feedback from elders, his economic development officer and people living in his band's eight communities before making any decisions.

"There are going to be people out there that will jump on that opportunity and they're going to be making quite a bit of money." Beatty said.

"If the band opens the outlet, then the community benefits."

In a statement, the province said it respects the Indian Act regarding potential provincial taxes on cannabis sales on-reserve. Officials are still working out how the province will divvy up taxes collected on marijuana, and release the plan in this spring's budget.

Some Cree leaders say there are pros and cons to selling marijuana on-reserve once it's legal, while others would rather steer clear. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

At Onion Lake, Chief Wallace Fox remembered fighting the province over on-reserve casinos decades ago, and maintained the province has no business telling band members what they can or cannot do.

"The province should have no jurisdiction on First Nations Crown land," said Fox, who admitted other chiefs see legalized cannabis sales as a business opportunity.

Fox said his community gets the final say.

"There needs to be a lot of education and awareness sessions on this," he said.

"We need to have input from our community, especially our elders."