Article by Giuseppe Valiante, CityNews
Lewis Mitchell, a former police chief on the Mohawk territory of Akwesasne, chuckled when asked if he thought he would have trouble finding customers when his first batch of cannabis is ready for sale around summertime.
“No, not at all,” the president of Seven Leaf said at his company’s production facility along the St. Lawrence River, about 130 kilometres southwest of Montreal. They just won’t be in his own community, at least not for now.
It has been six months since the federal Liberal government legalized marijuana in Canada, leaving it up to the provinces to manage sale and distribution. First Nations people have jumped in on the action, but reserve politics and jurisdictional issues have complicated legalization in Indigenous communities.
Akwesasne is a glaring example.
The Mohawk territory is located within the borders of Ontario, Quebec and New York State. Quebec created a provincial retail monopoly for cannabis and isn’t issuing licenses to non-state actors. Ontario, meanwhile, capped its retail licenses at 25 and distributed them through a lottery system. And recreational use of the drug remains illegal in New York.
Since legalization in Canada last October, unlicensed smoke shops selling cannabis have sprouted up in Indigenous communities around the Montreal area. In Akwesasne, the Mohawk police force has raided stores judged illegal by the band council. In Kanesatake, a Mohawk community north of Montreal, Grand Chief Serge Simon has told media he is powerless to stop illicit shops from opening.
The Akwesasne band council would like to begin licensing its own retail stores, but Grand Chief Abram Benedict said he’s still trying to figure out how to ensure the product sold is safe and from a legal source.
“I will say the biggest challenge for issuing licenses is the supply chain,” he said in an interview Monday. “We haven’t solidified where our licensed retailers will get their supply.”
Mitchell, a youthful looking 62, is president and part owner of Seven Leaf, which he says is the first and only cannabis company in Canada wholly owned by Indigenous people and licensed by the federal health agency. The company, he says, is committed to operating according to federal law.
Part of his 7,560-square-metre factory is licensed to grow, while the other section is still under construction. When the whole facility is up and running, he says he’ll be able to employ up to 120 people and produce 12,000 kilograms of cannabis per year. But for now, he won’t be able to sell a single gram to his own people without risking his license.