The Grand Chief of the Treaty #3 territory, Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh, is calling on the provincial government to include the Indigenous community in the sale of cannabis, and the decisions that surround it.

Kavanaugh says that the province’s decision to limit Ontario to only 25 retail locations has essentially ‘blocked’ northern First Nation communities from participating in the emerging cannabis market. That decision was made last month, as the province deals with cannabis supply and distribution concerns.

“We understand that the number of initial stores has been limited due to supply constraints. However, allocating just 2 initial licenses for the entire north – a region that takes up to 18 hours to traverse by car – is impractical for both economic and policy reasons,” said Kavanaugh, in an open letter.

The open letter has been sent to Ontario’s Attorney General Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Finance Vic Fedeli, and Kenora Rainy – River MPP and Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Greg Rickford.

“The stated objective of both the federal and provincial governments has been to implement a safe market for cannabis that fights the illegal market. That is simply not going to happen if no store or safe supply of cannabis products will be available in our communities, many of which are already struggling to eradicate the illicit drug trade.”

Physical marijuana stores will be awarded a licence to sell cannabis through a lottery system, and will only be awarded to communities with a population above 50,000, ending any notions of northwestern Ontario seeing a physical store open this April.

“I note that your approach stands in stark contrast to the framework of the previous government, which saw the emerging legal market for cannabis as an opportunity to economically empower First Nations people. In addition to government-run storefronts, the Liberals’ approach allowed the province to ‘enter into arrangements and agreements with a council of the [First Nation] band’ with respect to the sale of cannabis on reserve.”

Under former Premier Kathleen Wynne, the Liberals were aiming to open 40 government-owned cannabis stores on July 1, 2018 – before legalization was pushed back to October. By 2020, the Liberals said that they would have opened 150 stores. 

Kavanaugh noted that the provincial governments of Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia included favourable criteria in the licence selection process for Indigenous-owned or controlled participation.

He adds that he hopes the Alcohol Gaming Commission of Ontario will create a special licencing allocation for First Nation communities in northwestern Ontario.

“Northern communities and First Nations were promised new economic opportunities under your government during the election. I respectfully request that those commitments be reflected in your approach to regulating participation in this new marketplace so that our communities can consider whether the cannabis industry should be part of their economic destiny.”

City councils in Kenora and Dryden have both approved allowing retail stores to open in the new year, however, neither community has a large enough population to be awarded a licence. Physical stores are set to open in April. 

For more information:
Province limiting number of pot stores

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