Article by Joseph Tunney , CBC News
Tobique First Nation has simmered with anger since RCMP raided a medical marijuana dispensary, a business the band council backed as a path to healing in a community afflicted with drug abuse.
The early October raid on Tribal ReLeaf brought out 50 protesters, who formed a blockade to stop the RCMP from leaving the reserve with dispensary products.
The Mounties were allowed to pass and the dispensary reopened within hours.
But the raid struck at the core of the Maliseet community’s convictions about Indigenous self-government.
For some observers, the extent that self-governance applies in this case is uncertain.
For Tobique First Nation, a rigid and well-defined line exists, and the RCMP crossed it.
“Our laws, our laws,” said Gerald Bear, who runs Tribal ReLeaf. “Your laws, your laws.”
Bear said fury persists over the RCMP intrusion into band business.
“There are people angry,” he said. “Just look at the optics. You’re running a First Nations-owned pain management centre, regulated by our chief and council. Our government.”
Medicinal marijuana dispensaries are illegal everywhere in Canada, and only suppliers approved by Health Canada can fill prescriptions.
Tribal ReLeaf isn’t the first dispensary to go ahead anyway, despite the federal regulation, but it’s different from most others in a significant way: it has the support of the local government, in this case the chief and band council.
Before Tribal ReLeaf was set up, the band council passed a motion allowing designated persons on the reserve to possess, produce and distribute marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Not only was Tribal ReLeaf set up with council’s blessing, the community owns 51 per cent of it.
The City of Vancouver has also adopted bold bylaws involving medical marijuana.
Tobique Chief Ross Perley says the First Nation has the right to take its future into its own hands, whether it’s to solve economic problems or rampant painkiller abuse, the latter a New Brunswick-wide problem.
The raid on Tribal ReLeaf represented a lack of respect for Indigenous rights, he said, and undercut an autonomous government.
“We believe in self-government and self-determination and we license our own operations,” the chief said
The council’s goal with Tribal ReLeaf is to reinvest money in the community and help wean residents off painkillers such as opioids, which Bear calls an “epidemic” on the reserve.
He said the dispensary is a more personal way for the community to heal itself — an alternative to Western medicine, which some First Nations allege can be disrespectful of traditions or even discriminate against them.
When band members walk into the dispensary, he said, clerks will likely already know their background. Community members can apply to join Tribal ReLeaf; outsiders need a prescription from a doctor.
Additionally, the store hosts activities such as workshops for anxiety.
“This is our territory,” Bear said. “We’ll deal with our own problems. Nobody else has dealt with them.”