The legalization framework implemented by Canada’s Liberal Party created obstacles for First Nations communities to have fair market opportunities to build economic development, but that has not dissuaded the Indigenous communities from restoring medicinal healing while building cannabis markets.
The Cannabis Act, which established the legal foundation for the newly regulated industry in 2018, gave distribution and sales authority to provinces and territories, while the federal government held on to cultivation and regulation. What was missing? Despite political efforts by the Assembly of First Nations leadership, vocal advocacy from the National Indigenous Medical Cannabis Association, and grassroots advocates to recognize the inherent treaty rights and ability to govern themselves, there was a failure to include First Nations’ cannabis licensing, regulation, or excise taxes into the law. But that has not stopped the Indigenous communities from raising the bar to create a market that serves all Canadians by providing high-quality products and reducing access to whole plant medicine alternatives.
Helping First Nations
“With the Cannabis Act not including the First Nations communities, it has given us the opportunity to benefit from not having to pay taxes. For some of the First Nations, we get to choose where this “tax money” would go. This has given some of us the chance to help our Nations in different ways that we see fit. Whether it is the community needing more food, elders needing their medicine free, programs paid for, etc…” says Thomas Tyler Bob. Bob is working with other Indigenous dispensary owners across different territories to establish a “Red Market”—an economically-viable industry by and for Indigenous Peoples. Bob is Snaw-naw-as, a member of Nanoose First Nation. He’s also the owner of Mary Jane’s Pure Cure (MJPC) where his team created an app for Android users called Mary’s Maps and features a digital interface for Indigenous cannabis businesses, or sovereign dispensaries operating on sovereign territories.
Thomas Tyler Bob is working to establish a “Red Market” by and for Indigenous Peoples.
“It is just the Indigenous stores,” he explains. “Right now, we have 200 registered businesses and we’re climbing, and Google Maps is behind us for advertisement.”
“This is just the start of it,” Bob says. “Nations [will] start to understand that we can do this together as a collective group.” Bob is also working with the Indigenous CANNabis Coalition (ICANNC) to integrate the US Tribally-owned and operated dispensaries into Mary’s Maps. ICANNC publishes THC Magazine, elevating Tribal hemp and cannabis cultures and has developed a print map that is featured in each issue of THC.
According to Pat Warnecke of Best Buds Society, one of the barriers was created when the government “let outsiders move in” and take opportunities away from the community through the lottery system. “Some of the challenges were things like having community consultations to educate folks and talk about all the myths and stereotypes of cannabis; to get to a point of healing and recognition as a medicine, not just another drug.”
It is an opportunity to play a more active role.
Warnecke goes on to say, “The opportunities are great right now for communities to govern their own laws and extend sovereignty rights and access to plant medicines to help with natural ways to dealing with their health, including mental health, harm reduction, and addictions. It is an opportunity to play a more active role with customizing healing options and facilitate treatments and facilities used vs. the old government centres and ways. Red Market dispensaries can also help open the access and market for other plant medicines like mushrooms.”
Best Buds Society is a patient-based medical cannabis access clinic that is currently going through the Supreme Court of Canada with a patient’s access Charter Challenge.
Access to Medicinal Cannabis
Access to quality, medicinal cannabis for First Nations communities was the primary reason behind the development of Legacy 420. The vertically integrated cannabis operation was started on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in 2015, by Tim Barnhart, to provide education, safe access, and a full spectrum of delivery methods from suppositories, topicals, and flower to premium full extract cannabis oils. “We are following every legality that’s out there,” says Barnhart and he wants to make sure to address the health needs of the communities at large. “We are more in the field of medicine than we are of having a good time. We have over 250 products in the SKUs that we manufacture and around 5,000 products that are available through our wholesale program.” Legacy 420 initiated a wholesale and white label program to pre-qualified First Nation’s dispensary owners. Barnhart has a vision for providing medical access to full extract cannabis oil at affordable or eventually reimbursable costs through qualifying medical providers. “We are tightly in the medical market, where I have always wanted to be and we are making that a reality.”