REGINA — Saskatchewan’s justice minister is to meet next week with the chief of a First Nation that has opened an unlicensed cannabis store.
Don Morgan says he and Anthony Cappo of the Muscowpetung Saulteaux First Nation are to discuss the issue next Monday in Regina.
Morgan says he hopes the situation doesn’t end up in court.
“I would rather have some discussions, see it shut down and have an application that would go through the ordinary course,” Morgan said Monday.
The store, Mino-Maskihki, is on the First Nation’s land northeast of Regina and opened last week. Cappo has said the First Nation has a sovereign right to make its own cannabis rules.
The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, which oversees cannabis sales in the province, has sent a warning letter that says provincial and federal legislation still applies on reserve land.
It says Muscowpetung must have a provincial license to open a pot store legally. It also says cannabis sold in a store must come from a grower with a federal license.
“Cannabis that is produced for commercial sale by anyone who does not hold a federal license under the federal Cannabis Act is illicit and cannot legally be possessed or sold anywhere in Canada,” the letter says.
Muscowpetung spokeswoman Cherish Francis said the First Nation hasn’t changed its position.
“We’re in a tough position,” Francis said of the legal aspects regarding the store.
She said the First Nation has responded to the government’s letter, but the band won’t release it publicly. Morgan said he hasn’t seen Muscowpetung’s response.
The store is still open and the last few days have been pretty busy, Francis said.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations says it is supporting Muscowpetung’s inherent and treaty rights. Chief Bobby Cameron wasn’t available for an interview on Monday.
Dwight Newman, a University of Saskatchewan professor specializing in Indigenous rights, said it’s “pretty hard to find a treaty right to sell cannabis”
“I guess that can be tested out in court, but I think it’s stretching the treaty rights a little bit to assert that,” Newman said from Saskatoon.
He said the province has the legal upper hand as well as the authority to apply its licensing regulations on reserves.
Newman wondered why the Muscowpetung Saulteaux waited until federal cannabis legislation was passed if the band is basing its claim on inherent rights.
He suggested the issue is similar to when casinos first opened in the province. Several gambling houses started to open on reserves without permission and eventually a provincewide plan was negotiated, he said.
Morgan is leaving it to police to shut down the store if they see fit. He said if the First Nation’s argument is one of jurisdiction, then the province is likely off to court.
He hopes the First Nation will sit down with the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority about applying for a cannabis license.
Were the band to receive provincial approval, it would be the first on-reserve cannabis shop in the province, he said.
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Ryan McKenna, The Canadian Press