Natives mull legal weed
‘We have to build some trust here’
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 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.
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.