Article by Gloria Galloway, Globe and Mail
First Nations leaders say they must be given the right to govern the sale and distribution of legalized marijuana within their communities and to set the laws that will oversee its use by their people.
Chiefs attending an annual conference of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) on Wednesday expressed wide-ranging views on the federal Liberal government’s plan for legalizing cannabis by next July 1.
Some told the assembly they have not had enough time or money to prepare for the change and urged the AFN to ask for a delay in the implementation of Bill C-45, which would make marijuana legal in Canada for the first time in 94 years. Others said they embraced the legalization of the drug and are looking forward to sharing in the wealth that will be generated by the cannabis industry.
But there was widespread agreement that it is the First Nations, and not the federal or provincial governments, that will determine the rules around the use and sale of marijuana on reserves.
The AFN has struck a committee led by Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day and Quebec Regional Chief Ghislain Picard to ensure that First Nations have the support they need to adapt to legalization of marijuana and to document concerns around the health, social, and economic issues.
“Above all we do need to look at this from a jurisdictional lens,” Mr. Day said. “Our people are going to say, ‘Listen, we have aboriginal treaty rights, we have economic rights as First Nations people. Who is Canada to say we can’t have a dispensary in our community?'”
Even though the federal government is letting the provinces decide such things as the age at which someone may legally possess cannabis, Mr. Day said the First Nations may not feel bound to adhere to the provincial rules.
For instance, a province may set the age at 18, he said, “but what if a [First Nations] community says we want it to be 23 or 24 because the studies show that the development of a young person’s brain isn’t complete until they are in their 20s?”
The communities that most oppose marijuana legalization tend to be the smaller and more isolated reserves in the northern part of the country where the people will be consumers of the drug but have little chance of cashing in on the potential financial windfall of the cannabis business.