First Na­tion looks to his­tory for pot guid­ance

While to­bacco shops abound, sell­ing cannabis on Kah­nawake is il­le­gal


MON­TREAL— For the Mo­hawk ter­ri­tory of Kah­nawake, cannabis le­gal­iza­tion is an op­por­tu­nity to cor­rect the mis­takes of the past re­gard­ing to­bacco.

Smoke shacks sell­ing tax-free cig­a­rettes are per­va­sive in the com­mu­nity across the St. Lawrence River from Mon­treal, and their own­ers have no obli­ga­tion to give money back to cit­i­zens, says Joe De­laronde, spokesper­son for the Mo­hawk Coun­cil.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment was part of the prob­lem, he ex­plained, “giv­ing to­bacco li­cences willy-nilly.”

“Peo­ple be­came very frus­trated with that over time,” De­laronde added. “And even though some peo­ple gave back — some just pock­eted (all the rev­enue).”

But while lu­cra­tive to­bacco shops abound in Kah­nawake, sell­ing, dis­tribut­ing or man­u­fac­tur­ing cannabis on the ter­ri­tory re­mains il­le­gal.

Kah­nawake is cur­rently draft­ing its own cannabis leg­is­la­tion and tak­ing its time to make sure cit­i­zens’ con­cerns are heard, De­laronde said.

“We have to build some trust here,” he ex­plained. “We need our own laws to make sure we have con­trol over the sit­u­a­tion.”

Opin­ion in Kah­nawake on le­gal­iz­ing cannabis sales is split.

The coun­cil re­cently re­leased re­sults of an opin­ion polls that sur­veyed 425 peo­ple in the com­mu­nity, 55 per cent of whom ei­ther “agreed or strongly agreed” with al­low­ing the le­gal sale of cannabis on the ter­ri­tory.

Kah­nawake’s cannabis bill could be adopted be­fore Christ­mas, De­laronde said, but com­mit­tees will still need to cre­ate a se­ries of rules and reg­u­la­tions to com­pli­ment the law, which will en­sure the fi­nal leg­is­la­tion only en­ters into force much later.

The coun­cil is also still work­ing out if and how the com­mu­nity will im­pose a “roy­alty” on cannabis sales — or to tax non­Indige­nous peo­ple who come into the com­mu­nity to buy the prod­uct.

De­laronde says charg­ing a roy­alty could en­sure cannabis is not cheaper on the ter­ri­tory than in the rest of the prov­ince.

“If the price is lower in Kah­nawake, are we en­cour­ag­ing our young peo­ple to smoke more?” De­laronde asked.

The le­gal process Kah­nawake is go­ing through to le­gal­ize cannabis sales is high­light­ing a ten­sion be­tween the fed­eral, provin­cial and First Na­tions gov­ern­ments re­gard­ing who has fi­nal au­thor­ity over the drug.

Ot­tawa le­gal­ized cannabis on Oct. 17 and left it up to the prov­inces to draft laws reg­u­lat­ing the sale of the prod­uct on their ter­ri­tory. Que­bec, for in­stance, bans all cannabis sales out­side its gov­ern­ment-run stores.

Kah­nawake, how­ever, is lo­cated within Que­bec, but its lead­ers are draft­ing a law that would cre­ate the com­mu­nity’s own sales and pro­duc­tion net­work. In other Mo­hawk com­mu­ni­ties, such as Kane­sa­take, just north of Mon­treal, the in­creas­ing num­ber of cannabis dis­pen­saries is caus­ing ten­sion be­tween shop op­er­a­tors, the band coun­cil and the po­lice.

While in Ak­we­sasne, a Mo­hawk com­mu­nity that strad­dles the Que­bec, On­tario and New York state bor­ders, its coun­cil passed what it called “in­terim” cannabis leg­is­la­tion on Oct. 17. Un­til Ak­we­sasne passes the of­fi­cial law, any­one on the ter­ri­tory wish­ing to “pro­duce, sell or dis­trib­ute cannabis must be li­censed to do so” by the coun­cil.

Que­bec’s Health Depart­ment said in a state­ment that the prov­ince’s law al­lows First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties to “en­ter into agree­ments” with the prov­ince re­gard­ing cannabis leg­is­la­tion.

“No agree­ment has so far been signed,” the state­ment to The Cana­dian Press read.

And while First Na­tions coun­cils are as­sert­ing ju­ris­dic­tion over their ter­ri­to­ries, they are fac­ing the re­al­ity that cannabis pro­duc­tion is com­plex and many com­mu­ni­ties — at least for the mo­ment — need help.

Ghis­lain Pi­card, re­gional chief of the Assem­bly of First Na­tions of Que­bec and Labrador, said his or­ga­ni­za­tion unan­i­mously adopted a res­o­lu­tion stat­ing the fed­eral and provin­cial gov­ern­ments will not dic­tate laws about cannabis on their ter­ri­to­ries.

“But that be­ing said, (the res­o­lu­tion) is not quite wish­ful think­ing — but it’s not far from that ei­ther,” Pi­card said in an in­ter­view. “Be­cause the ca­pac­ity (to reg­u­late cannabis) is not nec­es­sar­ily there yet.”

Kah­nawake’s cannabis bill, for in­stance, is re­ly­ing partly on the fed­eral cannabis frame­work and re­quires any­one seek­ing to pro­duce mar­i­juana on the ter­ri­tory to ob­tain a li­cence from Health Canada as well as the Mo­hawk coun­cil.

“Do we have ex­per­tise to en­sure that the prod­uct is safe?” De­laronde asked. “No, we don’t. So, in order to do this prop­erly there is no choice in the mat­ter but to fol­low the guide­lines and laws and pa­ram­e­ters of what’s out there. Safety and health are para­mount.”

But that doesn’t mean the Mo­hawks of Kah­nawake aren’t in­ter­ested in even­tu­ally de­vel­op­ing the ca­pac­ity to reg­u­late cannabis en­tirely on their own.

“At some point,” De­laronde said, “we aren’t clos­ing the door.” The coun­cil has al­ready signed a non-bind­ing agree­ment with Canopy Growth Corp. that would see the First Na­tion host a 4,650-squareme­tre cannabis pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity, plus a pro­cess­ing and pack­ag­ing space nearly half that size, in part­ner­ship with Canada’s largest cannabis com­pany.

But de­spite the po­ten­tial for sig­nif­i­cant coun­cil rev­enues and eco­nomic growth from the cannabis in­dus­try, Kah­nawake wants to make sure this time around, cannabis doesn’t go the way of to­bacco.

“Once the (to­bacco) ge­nie left the bot­tle, it was too late to do any­thing about it,” De­laronde said. “Now we are get­ting ahead of the game on (cannabis). The vast ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple here want it reg­u­lated.”


Kah­nawake Grand Chief Joe Nor­ton and other lead­ers are draft­ing a law that to cre­ate com­mu­nity’s own pot sales and pro­duc­tion.

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