The federal Liberal government’s point-man on legalizing marijuana said more talks between Ottawa, the provinces and First Nations are needed to sort out how the looming pot law will apply on reserves.
Liberal MP Bill Blair, who is also parliamentary secretary for justice, said while provinces and territories will be responsible for developing regulations and distribution models for marijuana within their jurisdictions, it remains to be determined how those will be applied on First Nation territory.
“It’s an ongoing discussion between the three levels of government,” said Blair, a former Toronto police chief. “It’s part of a discussion that needs to take place.”
Ontario recently announced a plan to regulate and distribute marijuana through provincially controlled outlets. The plan was silent on how First Nations will fit into the scheme.
A spokesperson for Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said the province is initiating discussions with First Nations to coordinate an approach to marijuana legalization.
“Ontario recognizes the importance of holding meaningful consultations with Indigenous communities about cannabis legalization and has already held initial conversations,” said spokesperson Andrew Rudyk, in an emailed statement. “Ontario will develop a government-to-government engagement process with Indigenous communities and organizations…to facilitate discussions on the provincial approach to federal cannabis legalization.”
A first meeting of this so-called “bilateral cannabis table” is scheduled for Sept. 25.
Assembly of First Nations Ontario regional Chief Isadore Day said the provinces should have no role in how First Nations decide to deal with marijuana on their territory.
“Ultimately there will need to be recognition of First Nation governments to look at issues of enforcement, to look at those harmonized arrangements,” said Day. “The province has no right. The question will then become, ‘Who will do it?’ Something of this nature does need to be regulated; whether it will be self-regulated by First Nations, whether it will be regulated by the federal government. If we are saying no to the provincial government, how will we put in place a management and enforcement regime that will protect the community?”
Day appeared before the House of Commons Health committee on Thursday and criticized the federal government’s failure to include First Nations in developing its proposed pot legalization legislation, Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act.