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Saskatchewan First Nations Get Autonomy

On December 2, 2022, the provincial government of Saskatchewan introduced the Cannabis Control (Saskatchewan) Amendment Act, 2022, to give First Nations in the province more autonomy in the regulation, distribution, enforcement, and sale of cannabis on-reserve.

These amendments come following a July 28 order in council that stated that First Nations would no longer have to secure a permit from the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) to operate cannabis stores on-reserve.

“Our government supports First Nations exercising their authority over on-reserve distribution and retailing of cannabis through a legal framework with SLGA,” says Lori Carr, the SLGA Minister responsible. “This change further fosters reconciliation by ensuring First Nation-owned businesses are able to fully participate in the economic opportunities presented by the retail cannabis industry.” These amendments make it so First Nations retailers will also be able to purchase regulated cannabis products from the Canadian government.

The Summary Offences Procedure Amendment Act, 2022 was introduced at the same time, providing a legal framework for First Nations to enforce laws and bylaws within their communities through tickets, fines, and other measures.

First Nations Advocates Still Skeptical

While on the surface the amendments on cannabis appear to be something that will benefit First Nations who want to participate in the cannabis economy, advocates are still skeptical about what this new legislation will achieve.

Pat Warnecke is the owner of Best Buds Society in Regina and has been an active advocate for cannabis sovereignty on Saskatchewan’s First Nations. “The Saskatchewan government never included the First Nations communities into the mainframe of the industry to start with,” Warnecke says. “They were not invited to the table for decision making with the provincial regulations and not given licenses or businesses; with no stores easily accessible [to] their members.”

Warnecke states that at the beginning, those with deep pockets were the ones at the table who ultimately benefitted from Saskatchewan’s earlier cannabis agenda, and licensing policies. “No Indigenous communities were represented by license or ownership in the original regime,” he adds.

The Cannabis Control (Saskatchewan) Amendment Act, 2022 states that an operator of a store that is located on a reserve is exempt from the Act and the accompanying regulations if the band establishes a regulatory framework that requires stores to sell government-regulated products. It also requires that they do not sell cannabis to minors, that records about the activities with respect to cannabis are kept, and that they reduce the risk of commercial cannabis being diverted into illicit markets. The Act also requires a cannabis authority to be established or that retail stores are subject to an “Indian band cannabis authority.”

The Medicine Chest & Treaty 6

Warnecke notes that Treaties provide special rights to Indigenous communities. Treaty 6 is an agreement between the Crown and the Plains and Woods Cree, Assiniboine, and other band governments at Fort Carlton and Fort Pitt. It was signed in 1876 and included an important clause that hadn’t been included in previous treaties. What is known as the “medicine chest clause” states, “That a medicine chest shall be kept at the house of each Indian Agent for the use and benefit of the Indians at the direction of such agent.” In other words, the medicine chest clause provides a guarantee of all health care services, delivery, medicines, and supplies as may be required by Indigenous peoples.

“Case law demonstrates that Treaty rights must not be interpreted in a static or rigid way,” Warnecke explains. “The interpreting court must index treaty rights within the modern context. Has the medicine chest treaty right been fulfilled? The answer is a resounding…. No!”

Warnecke continues to advocate for the province, and the nation, to recognize and respect that many First Nations only want to see the medicinal uses of the plant honoured.

“We have found that cannabis, as well as other plant medicines, can address many medical symptoms, including mental health, and addiction issues,” says Warnecke. “This is an amazing time for Indigenous communities from around the world to share their medicines and knowledge, to heal people. There is an opportunity for our Indigenous communities to meet with other Indigenous communities from around the world, to create and lead healing programs for our communities and beyond.”

Photo courtesy of Best Buds Society, Regina

Tags: Indigenous cannabis industry (2), Lori Carr (1), on-reserve cannabis sales (1), Pat Warnecke (1), Saskatchewan First Nations (1), SLGA (6)