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Critics Say That Canada’s Cannabis Act is Neglecting Indigenous Entrepreneurs

January 11, 2022 08:00 am ET
Critics Say That Canada’s Cannabis Act is Neglecting Indigenous Entrepreneurs

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is asking Canada’s federal government to eradicate regulatory restrictions present in the Cannabis Act, that are allegedly alienating Indigenous entrepreneurs from participating in the Great White North’s growing adult-use cannabis industry. 

The Problems with the Cannabis Act for Indigenous Canadians

The problems that plague the Cannabis Act for First Nations People can be broken down into two key factors. One factor seems to exacerbate the other. First, the Cannabis Act did not recognize and consider the perspective of First Nations people, leading to complications with production, control, and licensing on native land. These issues have led to only a small number of indigenous Canadians are getting involved in the legal industry.

Governmental members were initially informed of the Assembly’s request after the national advocacy group published its 2021 “Federal Priorities” document. The data supported the group’s claims with governmental statistics. Health Canada, the governmental department responsible for national health policy, confirmed that fewer than 5% of all federal cannabis licenses belong to Indigenous-owned or affiliated cannabis businesses.

To put this 5% number into perspective, that’s almost the same percentage of Canadian residents who are classified as Aboriginal. It’s important to note that the umbrella term “affiliated” may relate to any cannabis business in Canada that has attracted Indigenous investment. Although, it’s likely that there are actually less Indigenous-owned cannabis businesses scattered across the country than what Health Canada’s analysts conjectured.

“The Cannabis Act as it stands right now is failing, and these stats are indicative of some of the barriers that many First Nations are experiencing,” said chair of the Chief’s Committee on Cannabis for the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Terry Teegee, during a phone interview with MJBizDaily. “Where we’re failing is the fact that, far too often, First Nations jurisdiction and ability to license and control cannabis, or anything in our territory, is not recognized.”

Only a Handful of Canada’s License Holders are from Native Communities

Statistics from Health Canada show that 0.5% of Canada’s estimated 750 cannabis business licensees are based on one of the country’s 3,100 indigenous reservations. This works out at around three dozen. Those three dozen licenses were distributed as follows among four different categories:

  • 20 standard licensees
  • 14 micro license licensees
  • 2 nursery license licensees
  • 1 medical cannabis-only licensee.

If we rewind to one year ago, the number of Indigenous cannabis companies in Health Canada rested at just 19. This means that only 18 more managed to obtain one of the aforementioned license types within the past year. License applicants can classify as Indigenous-affiliated without meeting any set criteria, as maintained by Health Canada.

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“This can include any person or persons of First Nation, Inuit, and/or Métis descent, or any community, corporation, or business associated with a First Nation, Inuit and Métis government, organization, or community,” reads an email written by Health Canada spokesman Andre Gagnon.

Gagnon went on to say that a handful of cannabis business license applicants in Canada describe themselves as Indigenous, while a portion of other applicants are preparing a plan to employ Indigenous employees and/or self-identify with First Nations investment.

Chief Terry Teegee Calls for Amendment of the Cannabis Act

AFN’s Teegee who also serves as regional chief of British Columbia’s division of the Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN) is optimistic that the Cannabis Act will be amended to grant First Nations members the same treatment as other Canadian cannabis business owners. “The perspective of First Nations to recognize our inherent rights, treaty rights, and our ability to govern ourselves in terms of self-determination and sovereignty” is what the current law is lacking, said Teegee. “Quite obviously that was missed in terms of the development of the Cannabis Act.”

It may have formed the legal framework for Canada’s cannabis industry, which went into effect in 2018, but the Cannabis Act’s effectuation instantly divided First Nations, indigenous people, and other tribal community members from many hopeful “cannapreneurs” in various provinces and territories across the North American country.  

This occurred because Canada’s legal cannabis law enabled each of the country’s provinces and territories to take control over sales and distribution; as opposed to the federal government. Although the federal government did maintain regulatory control over cultivation; unfortunately for Indigenous Canadians, the law did not allow Canada’s First Nations to control reservation retail or production.

Future Solutions for Indigenous Canadians and Legal Cannabis in Canada

Teegee went on to say that Canada’s adoption of the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (Bill C-15), which occurred earlier in 2021, could help establish harmony among Canada’s tribal nations. He believes that Bill C-15 presents an opportunity toreconcile with the Indigenous people now that we have the declaration and the ability to amend the Cannabis Act.”

“Cannabis retail is one of them. First Nations weren’t awarded this opportunity (retail) for economic development through the Act. This needs to change,” continued Teegee, who concluded by saying that First Nations could join forces with the federal government to create a plan that demonstrates how cannabis distribution and retail sales might work in favor of Indigenous Canadian people.

The Cannabis Act was originally crafted without giving proper consideration to indigenous Canadians unique legal status, and how cannabis legalization would impact their communities’ ability to get involved in the new industry. Indigenous leaders and advocates alike agree that it’s time for the Cannabis Act to be amended so that all people can have the opportunity to participate in the legal cannabis market.

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