Na­tives mull le­gal weed

‘We have to build some trust here’

Winnipeg Sun - - NEWS -

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

Smoke shacks sell­ing taxfree 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, spokesman 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, said De­laronde.

“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 poll that sur­veyed 425 peo­ple in the com­mu­nity, 55% 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 com­ple­ment 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 non-in­dige­nous peo­ple who come into the com­mu­nity to buy the prod­uct.

Dela-ronde 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 oper- ators, 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.

DARIO AY­ALA/POST­MEDIA NET­WORK FILES

The Kah­nawake Mohawk Ter­ri­tory across the St. Lawrence River from Mon­treal is draft­ing its own cannabis laws in the wake of le­gal­ized mar­i­juana in Canada.

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