Chief and council may consider a band-run retail storefront

WIIKWEMKOONG—Indigenous communities have an extra tool to help manage the recent legalization of cannabis in Canada: They can choose to block shipments from the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) to addresses on reserves.

Manitoulin’s Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory has voted to take that very action. In a letter from the chief and council dated October 16, 2018, the band administration outlines its current position on cannabis sales.

“In a council resolution last night, a formal letter from chief and council will be sent to the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) requesting that the OCS not deliver cannabis and related products to Wiikwemkoong until further notice,” it states.

For Wiikwemkoong residents who want to order cannabis through the legal Ontario store, they will need to access their products off-reserve.

“Council encourages everyone to know the facts and health risks associated with recreational cannabis before making a decision on its use,” the letter states, before adding that the administration and partner agencies will distribute information surrounding its future policies to the community.

Wiikwemkoong Ogimaa Duke Peltier did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Although the moratorium applies to deliveries from the OCS website, it includes a note that council may consider a physical retail outlet in the future.

First Nations do not have a deadline before which they must decide whether to permit or restrict physical storefronts. The first stores are expected to open as early as April 1, 2019.

In Whitefish River First Nation (WRFN), physical cannabis stores are banned until further notice, a decision made after a community member announced plans to open a store but had not consulted council.

Ogimaa Shining Turtle says he and council have not placed any restrictions on shipments from OCS. The First Nation can officially apply to the government to ban cannabis retail outlets, but Ogimaa Shining Turtle stresses that WRFN will not be taking any action on government regulations until the community can gather the facts they need to make an informed decision.

Patsy Corbiere, Ogimaa-kwe of Aundeck Omni Kaning (AOK), says her First Nation has not made a formal cannabis policy yet, adding that the decision will involve input from community members.

“We’re going to be having community meetings and offering education,” she says. AOK held its first forum on the issue last week and it was well-attended.

“We want to take our time on this,” says Ogimaa-kwe Corbiere. “It’s always been the talk within the community and we knew it was going to become legalized, but we want to take it slow and easy and better understand it.”

Peter Nahwegahbow, AOK’s capacity and resource development worker, has taken on the role of community educator about cannabis.

“Peter will be holding education sessions every two to three weeks, until a specific time when we’re ready to do a referendum,” says Ogimaa-kwe Corbiere.

She says a confounding factor is that the Non-Insured Health Benefits program (NIHB) provides support to “registered First Nations and recognized Inuit” for certain medical necessities. Medicinal cannabis is not covered under the program and for those who receive a prescription, Ogimaa-kwe Corbiere says there are concerns that the added costs could increase poverty within the community.

“Once they decide they’re ready, we’ll let everybody share their thoughts on it through a referendum,” says Ogimaa-kwe Corbiere.

Other First Nations are more reserved in their outward efforts towards cannabis legalization. Bobbi-Sue, band manager of Zhiibaahaasing says council has yet to discuss its own policies and had no further comment. Sheguiandah First Nation Ogimaa Andrew Aguonie was also unable to provide comment besides his community not having a policy yet.

Sheshegwaning Ogimaa Dean Roy and M’Chigeeng Ogimaa-kwe Linda Debassige did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

The Expositor also contacted OCS to find out how many other reserves have enacted restrictions on cannabis deliveries. OCS spokesperson Daffyd Roderick said the store would be unable to provide comment by press time.