Free Enterprise of Cannabis in Ontario Is An Opportunity For First Nation Entrepreneurs and Community Members to Grow Their Economies

The anticipated move by Ontario to scrap the LCBO-style public retail model of cannabis sales and replace it with private retailers is welcome news for First Nations, particularly those already involved in the cannabis industry, from production to sales. The Province of Ontario now has an opportunity to work with First Nations – something that Canada has failed to do so far.

As the former co-chair of the AFN Task Force on Cannabis, I sent a letter to the Senate last month, voicing our concerns during the final debate on amendments to Bill C-45, which will legalize cannabis sales on October 17th – less than three months from now. Our concerns include the health and safety of our Peoples, and the lack of engagement to date. The letter reads in part:

“I am writing to remind you that our leadership in Ontario, indeed across the country, have grave concerns with the Cannabis Act. Firstly, the Government of Canada has failed to involve First Nations in the development of this Bill, which goes against the nation-to-nation relationship and Cabinet mandates established by Prime Minister Trudeau.

Specifically, Bill C-45 must respect First Nation jurisdiction. If they choose to do so, our communities have the right to invest, own, and operate cannabis facilities and dispensaries. If they choose to do so, our communities will have nothing to do with cannabis, just as some are dry communities, banning alcohol sales.   First Nations not only have the right to do business with each other, but with our brothers in sisters south of the border in the United States. We do not believe in tariffs or restricting trade in North America.”

In recent days, I have spoken to Premier Doug Ford. He has agreed to have further discussions on ideas and views of First Nation priorities. Specifically one of my focus areas will be on the opportunity of First Nation involvement in the rolling out of cannabis production and sales in the province. First and foremost, Premier Ford is a businessman, and he recognizes the entrepreneurial qualities of our Peoples. The Province of Ontario was founded thanks to a Treaty relationship that relied upon the sharing of lands, resources and trade with our Peoples.

Today, there are already dozens of First Nation owned and operated cannabis dispensaries in Ontario. There are over 40 stores alone on the Mohawk territory of Tyendinaga, between Belleville and Kingston. Some of these operations report sales of $60,000 daily. These stores, along with a number of sophisticated growing operations, provide employment for hundreds of community members.

I was impressed with the story of a single mother with several young children. She had been living in poverty before gaining employment at a cannabis dispensary. She now has the resources to live a middle-class lifestyle, own a car, and enroll her children in sports activities. This one family is now a part of the dream that prompted so many Ontarians to support Doug Ford – aspirations and ambition, hope and hard work, will pay off with a comfortable lifestyle.

In the weeks and months to come, the Ford government must work with First Nations, not only on the cannabis file, but on all aspects of economic development that respects our rights and jurisdiction. First Nations must be allowed to continue to develop green energy projects; explore business and procurement opportunities which includes the establishment of urban reserves; and renew the centuries-old sovereign trade relationship with our brothers and sisters in North America.

Indeed, the future is green. Our Peoples want to be a part of it.

Isadore Day, Wiindawtegowinini, is former Ontario Regional Chief, and is the CEO and founder of Bimaadzwin   

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