Birch Island will consult membership on pot sales

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Following news that pot shop was in the works

WHITEFISH RIVER FIRST NATION—Faced with the announcement of a planned opening of a retail marijuana store within the reserve, the Whitefish River First Nation recently passed a band council resolution to impose a moratorium on such establishments, pending a community consultation.

“Council did pass a motion to put a moratorium on it,” said Ogimaa Shining Turtle. “We have put it on hold until we can have a community consultation.”

Concerns had arisen when a community member had announced that he intended to open a retail marijuana shop in the community.

“There is a lot of vagueness about legalization and retail marijuana sales right now,” he said. “You might be saying that it is your ‘constitutional right,’ but this is about community. We need to determine where we are as a community, what our community values are on this.”

Ogimaa Shining Turtle said that it was important to have civil conversation and debate on the issue. “It’s okay to have diversity, but diversity should not build divisions. We are not going to walk in and start shouting and yelling.”

Ogimaa Shining Turtle noted that legalization is essentially new ground for all communities and he advised caution going forward. “Remember, this was all done with no consultation, no conversation with people to find out what they think,” he said. The WRFN band intends to have those conversations and community consultations before moving forward.

“I would like to see more put into research and education (before moving forward),” he said. Whitefish River First Nation’s band council has endorsed the “go slow” approach to the issue of marijuana sales in their community with the moratorium, at least until the community grass roots makes their wishes known.

The issue is not just limited to Whitefish River; Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Glen Hare noted that a similar moratorium had been passed in Nipissing First Nation and is a topic of discussion in most other communities as well.

“There is a lot of concern,” he admitted, but Grand Chief Hare emphasised that the issue is one to be determined locally, not dictated by his or any other organization. “This is something that has to be community driven,” he said. “I got that message loud and clear from the communities when I was out campaigning. If the community says no, it is no, if they say yes, it is yes. It isn’t up to me to decide.”

There is definitely a role for upper levels of government to play, however, said the grand council chief. “There needs to be a lot more education and research,” he said. “We have had two forums on this with the government and we left with more questions than when we went in. The problem is that nobody knows the answers.”

Asked for his personal opinion, Grand Council Chief Hare was succinct. “I am against it. There are just too many unknowns and there is nobody who can really answer those questions for me. Then there is the revenue sharing, where is the money from all this going to go?”

“This is another aspect where there has been no consultation, and you can see where that takes you,” he said. “They didn’t consult on the pipelines and where is that at now? We need to get back to talking to the people, they are the ones who should decide.”

Although there has been discussions at the council table, neither Wiikwemkoong or Aundeck Omni Kaning have passed a resolution on the matter yet.