Why a Wahnapitae First Nation man feels he has a right to sell marijuana

The two marijuana dispensaries raided by police last week on Wahnapitae First Nation are both back open. The owner of one store refutes the charges laid against him and the ability of police to infringe on his Indigenous rights.

Marijuana store raided twice since it opened, owner facing charges

Creator's Choice owner Derek Roque stands a safe distance from his cannabis dispensary on Wahnapitae First Nation, where he was charged by police last week. (Erik White/CBC)

Derek Roque is very proud of his store, Creator's Choice Natural Health Solutions.

He goes on about the high quality cannabis they sell, the partnerships he's made with other Ojibwe weed companies, the high quality packaging his products come in and all of the people they've helped discover the healing power of the plant.

But Roque doesn't want to give a tour of the marijuana dispensary on Wahnapitae First Nation or even get too close to the attractive grey stone building he put up in the past year, after he was charged by police last week.

"We were robbed by the police, not raided," says the 47-year-old.

Roque calls the charges against him, in particular the allegation that he obstructed and assaulted a police officer, "absurd."

This is the second time Creator's Choice has been raided since it opened a little over a year ago. Another marijuana store on the other side of this community north of Sudbury, called First Nations Medicinal, was also raided last week and has been in the past. 

Creator's Choice on Wahnapitae First Nation looks like a jewelry store, with glass display cases holding everything from cannabis chocolate bars to pipes, as well as traditional Indigenous medicines. (Erik White/CBC )

Roque believes the Ontario Provincial Police, who worked in concert with Anishnabek Police, have no right to arrest him.

"First Nations individuals have the right for economic sustainability to provide jobs for themselves and their families," says Roque.

"I have the right to do this."

The charges are based on the fact that Wahnapitae First Nation has not officially voted to allow cannabis stores on its territory. Repeated phone calls to the First Nation were not returned. 

"They haven't had the vote yet. I've been told to wait patiently and while I wait patiently, I'm getting these horrendous charges," Roque says. 

He says he applied for a permit over a year ago and has also applied to build a production facility to grow his cannabis on the same property.

He says band councillors have told him they wish to work with him, which is why he was surprised to get a visit from police officers.

Creator's Choice says it has attracted customers from all over northern Ontario and even points further south, most of them over 40 and focused on the health aspects of taking cannabis. (Erik White/CBC )

"I'm quite confident that they will be able to figure out a way to implement this new industry and actually benefit from it," says Roque.

He blames the federal government for the confusion and controversy over cannabis on First Nations over the past year. 

"I think the government has forgotten about First Nations people the way they always do, thinking we just want a handout. Well, Creator's Choice doesn't want a handout from the government. We want to get dirty and work it ourselves and provide jobs and economic stability to our community," says Roque. 

Elsewhere in northern Ontario, two dispensaries were also raided by police this week on Henvey Inlet First Nation south of Sudbury, with charges laid and thousands of dollars worth of marijuana being seized.

Some First Nations have voted to not welcome dispensaries at all, while others have decided to operate their own stores.

First Nations Medicinal on Wahnapitae First Nation has also been raided a few times by police and then re-opened. (Erik White/CBC)

Mississauga First Nation Chief Reg Niganobe says the community first got turned on to cannabis a few years ago when it made some money investing in marijuana stocks.

He says the First Nation then looked into getting into the business for themselves and following a community consultation, decided to ban private stores and open its own pot shop catering to tourists along Highway 17.

"For us it keeps a better accountability. Safety, health concerns, substance issues, those kinds of things, it keeps them a little more manageable and under control," says Niganobe.

"And that way the money that was being generated went back to the First Nation."

Niganobe says Mississauga First Nation has also put its name in the provincial lottery that will chose the first 25 operators of cannabis dispensaries licensed by the Ontario government.

But he says even if their name isn't drawn, the community will go ahead with plans for its own marijuana store, expected to open sometime this summer. 

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca