First Nations Entrepreneurs Are Asserting Sovereignty and Seizing The New Cannabis Economy

Article by Jorge Barrera, CBC News

 First Nations entrepreneurs are asserting sovereignty and seizing the new cannabis economy Six Nations cannabis dispensary owner defiant after raid: 'Stay out of our affairs' By Jorge Barrera, CBC News. Jeff Hawk inside his Green Health for 6 dispensary in December 2017. Hawk's dispensary was raided on Tuesday, Jan. 9. (CBC)

Jeff Hawk said he was sitting in the lounge area of his dispensary chatting with friends early on Tuesday evening when several assault-rifle wielding Six Nations police officers burst in, ordering everyone to get on the ground.

Hawk’s dispensary, called Green Health for 6, was the second to be hit by a raid in Six Nations, an Iroquois community near Hamilton, in the space of three months.

Six Nations police seized about $20,000 in cash along with some of the cannabis sold in the dispensary and charged four people, including Hawk. Hawk was charged with possession and trafficking marijuana; the other three were charged with trafficking.

Hawk said police left behind more cannabis products than they seized, including a concentrated form of cannabis extract known as shatter, edibles and half a pound of marijuana.

“I am angry. I am sad. I have a million-and-one thoughts going through my head right now,” said Hawk, in an interview Wednesday morning.

“I am very angered by a lot of things — how the Six Nations police dealt with it, how they rushed in so fast to raid me for doing something good.”

While dispensaries are operating in other First Nations in Ontario, including in Tyendinaga and Alderville, Six Nations is the only place that has been hit by raids.

Battle lines drawn

It seems that in Six Nations the sovereignty arguments asserted by First Nation dispensary owners, who have made their moves to stake an early claim in the blossoming cannabis trade, are facing their strongest challenge.

Many currently involved in the First Nation cannabis trade see the opening moves by authorities as a replay of the beginning stages of what turned into a decades-long battle between government and First Nations over the tobacco trade.

Six Nations police hit Hawk’s dispensary mere hours after he issued a video and Facebook post announcing he would be releasing the results on Jan. 28 of an independent community survey on how the cannabis industry should be run in the community. Hawk said he received more than 700 responses to the survey and 626 came from band members.

He saw a connection between the raid and the survey, which the band council actively opposed.

“I think somebody is pushing their authority or somebody is trying to assert authority on the people. Somebody is blowing their horn and saying we are the power,” said Hawk.

Hawk is a Seneca faith keeper, a person whose role is to promote ceremonial ways and uphold culture. He said he reopened his dispensary, which sits atop a convenience store in Six Nations, on Wednesday to make a point.

“I will set the bar higher,” he said.

“I will say, ‘Listen, this is self-determination. Stay out of our affairs.’ That is basically the bottom line.”

Hawk said he doesn’t understand why Six Nations police is raiding a dispensary while letting known crack houses in the community continue to operate. He said if the police keep coming, it could eventually trigger a conflict.

“It is going to come to a head eventually,” he said.

“I was sitting in that jail cell last night. I felt really low. I felt like my culture and my heritage was being dragged and ripped from me.”

‘No grey area’

Six Nations Police Chief Glenn Lickers said if Hawk reopens his dispensary he will again be on the force’s “radar.” Lickers said the community has taken a zero tolerance policy against drugs and marijuana remains illegal.

“There is no grey area for us,” said Lickers.

“Right now it’s an illegal drug and we will deal with it as such. This is what the community expects of us.”

Six Nations Chief Ava Hill’s office referred calls about the raid to Six Nations police.

In a previous interview with CBC News following another raid in November against the Mohawk Medicine herbal dispensary, Hill said the band council supported the police action.

Hill said her band council is still researching its position on the looming cannabis legislation. She doesn’t believe Ontario or Ottawa has consulted enough with First Nations on cannabis legalization. She also doesn’t believe Ontario, which has already passed its pot law regulating the distribution and sale of cannabis, has any jurisdiction in her community.

The raid on Mohawk Medicine

It was quiet that Thursday evening in November at the Mohawk Medicine herbal store in Six Nations when a swarm of officers wielding a battering ram and assault rifles burst in through the door.

Seth LeFort and an employee, who were standing at the counter when the gun barrels appeared, immediately kneeled and held up their hands, according to surveillance video provided to CBC News.

“They came in like they were robbing a bank,” said LeFort, in an interview describing the Nov. 16, 2017 raid.

“They said, ‘Everyone get on the ground. Get on the ground.'”

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