First Nations in Saskatchewan question provincial jurisdiction over marijuana sales

First Nations in Sasakatchewan are wondering why the province has jurisdiction over cannabis retail on-reserve.

'It's not too late for federal government to accommodate First Nations,' says chief Lynn Acoose

The province of Saskatchewan has released its pot legislation and some Saskatchewan First Nations are questioning the eligibility requirements for acquiring a licence. According to the province, eligible communities need to have a population of at least 2,500 people and that leaves many First Nations out of the retail opportunity. (CBC)

Three Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan have been approved to apply for a licence to sell marijuana by the province of Saskatchewan following its cannabis policy announcement on Monday.

Those communities are Onion Lake Cree Nation, Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation and Lac La Ronge Indian Band.

But jurisdiction is of major concern for First Nations who are interested in becoming retailers of cannabis, and are wondering why the province has jurisdiction over cannabis retail on-reserve.

"I feel that we are going to be at the mercy of the provincial government when it comes to establishing cannabis sales as a profitable business," said Lynn Acoose, chief of Sakimay First Nation in Treaty 4 territory.

"I would like to see federal regulation on reserve as opposed to being subject to provincial regulation," said Acoose.

Sakimay First Nation has four properties in urban centres that Acoose said would be great potential retail locations. According to Acoose, two properties are in Regina and two are in Yorkton, Sask.

"It's not too late for the federal government to accommodate First Nations being self-regulating with regards to cannabis — both production and retail," said Acoose.

Accose said access to cannabis is going to be an obstacle for many rural community members.

"I think they're really underestimating the demand," she said.

Lack of meaningful consultation

According to Acoose, she hasn't seen any evidence of consultation with First Nations by the province and thinks if there had been, the legislation would look "a bit" different.

The Saskatchewan government said in an email the community selection was based primarily on population with a goal of geographic coverage and communities will be contacted in the coming days to answer questions about the process of opting in or out.

Eligible communities need to have a population base of at least 2,500 people in order to apply for a licence. In the case of First Nations, the population is based on the number of band members living on-reserve.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) said it has been making an effort to create partnerships and relationships based on mutual respect for jurisdiction and rights.

"The past history hasn't been the best," said David Pratt, FSIN's second vice-chief.

Pratt said a prime example of the province not consulting is the auction of Crown lands. 

According to the provincial treaty land entitlement agreement, First Nations have the first right of refusal on the sale of Crown lands.

"In the announcement today ... we're not surprised by it," said Pratt.

"They have a duty to consult framework ... a lot of the times they came after the fact. They come to us the day of or a week before they make the announcement and that's unacceptable."

Pratt said there are other First Nations in the province that are looking at getting involved in the production and retail side of cannabis, so they support each member nation's decision and will do whatever they can to assist their endeavours.


Brad Bellegarde

Reporter for CBC Indigenous based in Saskatchewan

Born and raised in Treaty 4 Territory, he holds an Indian Communication Arts Certificate from the First Nations University of Canada and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Regina. Follow him on Twitter @BBellegardeCBC