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First Nations seek input, consultation on marijuana legalization plans

Indigenous people must have the opportunity to consult and be full participants in the drafting of new legislation around cannabis use in Canada, says Isadore Day, the Ontario Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations.

'We will not be left as second thought,' says Ontario Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations

Chiefs with the Assembly of First Nations voted unanimously in 2016 to support a proposal calling for First Nations to "benefit fully from the development of this new and emerging sector." (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Indigenous people must have the opportunity to consult and be full participants in the drafting of new legislation around cannabis use in Canada, says Isadore Day, the Ontario Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations.

"We will not be left as second thought and we will not want to address this as incidental," he said.

Legalizing marijuana has implications for all levels of government - federal, provincial, municipal and First Nations - and even the first step, removing cannabis from the Criminal Code so it can be sold for recreational use, may have ramifications in Indigenous communities, he said.

Isadore Day, the Ontario Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations, says the federal government must consult First Nations leaders on changes to Canada's marijuana laws. (CBC)

"The jurisdiction, being both Treaty traditional territories and First Nations lands under the Indian Act, just in that simple description there's so many areas of concern and consideration that the federal government will need to take into account and in some cases look at the government-to-government lens and say 'how do we ensure that First Nations are accommodated?'"

Day wonders what the impact of the change in legislation will be on issues that intersect with marijuana use, such as health care, social programs, and justice.

He also questions how federal and provincial governments will respond if a First Nation refuses to allow marijuana into the community. 

"Case in point, we have communities in the north that are dry [alcohol-free] communities and that probably will come into play."

New law in 2018  creates 'challenging time frame' 

The federal government has made some overtures, suggesting it may be open to discussions addressing First Nations concerns about the legislation, said Day.

But he believes the decision to have the new law ready by 2018 creates a "challenging time frame."

"If we have experienced issues and challenges with consultations so far with both the feds and the provinces than we're certainly going to see some issues arise here. We need to be prepared to work in partnership with the federal and provincial governments to deal with those issues."