First Nations leaders say they have the right to apply consumption laws, govern sales and manage the distribution of legal marijuana within their communities.
Chiefs attending the annual conference of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) spoke on a wide range of views concerning the Liberal Government’s plan to legalize marijuana by next July. Feelings are still mixed. Some say they have not had enough time or capital to prepare for the change, and urge the AFN to pursue a delay on bill C-45. Others say they are ready to embrace legal marijuana and look forward to sharing the economic benefit of the industry.
However, one concept was in widespread agreement. That is, that the First Nations will determine the rules around the use and sale of marijuana on reserves – not the federal government. A committee has been formed by the AFN to position First Nation Communities with the support they need. This includes resources adapted to marijuana legalization and the analysis of the impacts to health and the economy. The committee is led by Ontario Regional Chief, Isadore Day, who urges parties to view this through a jurisdictional lens. Mr. Day says,
‘”Listen, we have aboriginal treaty rights, we have economic rights as First Nations people. Who is Canada to say we can’t have a dispensary in our community?'”
Mr. Day goes on to say that First Nations communities may not feel obligated to adhere to the provincial rules. For example, they may choose to set a higher age requirement given the research on the effects of Cannabis on the developing brain. In contrast, some of the smaller communities who are farther isolated from the revenue potential of a legal industry, fear that cannabis like any other drug will be exploited by an uneducated and unprepared population.
Others hold views related to more systemic issues. Randall Phillips, Chief of the Oneida Nation of the Thames, sees legal marijuana as another way for the federal government to profit from a black market product. But he believes first Nations should also profit too, and on their own terms. Phillips says,
“We will decide who gets it. We will decide how it gets distributed. We will decide how it gets protected and we are going to look at all those things. But I don’t need a regulatory framework.”
No one could predict that marijuana legalization would be this complicated. But with the number of parties affected growing daily and parties divided, the debate over the question of delaying or amending Bill-C45 rages on.