Fort McMurray First Nation CEO Brad Callihoo speaks during a visit to the Fort McMurray First Nation in Anzac Alta. on Friday June 24, 2016. Callihoo said the First Nation has depended heavily on Alberta’s oil and gas industry for its economic wellbeing, but legal marijuana presents an alternative. OTTAWA — In the heart of Alberta’s oil sands, there’s a new opportunity on the horizon, one that isn’t at the mercy of oil prices and pipeline politics.
The Fort McMurray #468 First Nation hopes to open a new marijuana production facility next year on its land south of the city, in partnership with cannabis company RavenQuest BioMed. The operation could eventually produce 15,000 kilograms of cannabis a year, estimates Brad Callihoo, the First Nation’s CEO.
“My mandate is a self-sufficient nation for the next seven generations,” he said.
Fort McMurray #468 has 805 members, 368 of whom live on reserve. Callihoo said the First Nation has depended heavily on Alberta’s oil and gas industry for its economic wellbeing, but legal marijuana presents an alternative.
Like Fort McMurray #468, many Indigenous communities across Canada are keen to cash in on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise to legalize recreational marijuana this year, by producing or selling legal weed. Some First Nations groups are even calling for a cut of the lucrative excise tax. But alongside those touting the economic benefits of legalization, some Indigenous leaders are ringing alarm bells about the impact legal cannabis could have in under-resourced communities struggling with poverty and substance abuse. They want to ensure Indigenous communities have the option to ban or restrict marijuana on reserves, as they can alcohol, along with the opportunity to grow and sell it.
Exactly what legal weed will mean for Indigenous communities is still unclear, but already Bill C-45 is testing whether Trudeau can make good on one signature promise, to legalize cannabis, without losing ground on another — advancing reconciliation. Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, speaks during the Outreach official welcome at the Group of Seven (G7) Leaders Summit in La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada, on Saturday, June 9, 2018. Last week, the Trudeau government averted a possible showdown with Indigenous senators, who’d accused Ottawa of “drive-by consultation” and pushed for a one-year delay to the landmark pot bill to give Indigenous communities more time to prepare. The senators ultimately decided to support the bill, but only after Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott and Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor sent them a letter mere hours before debate was set to begin. They promised to continue consultation with Indigenous communities, to fund mental health and addictions treatment, to address concerns around the ability of First Nations to regulate cannabis on reserves, and to continue discussions around revenue sharing and taxation. They pledged that the government will report back to Parliament on its progress within a year of legalization.
It was enough, at least for the time being. Independent Sen. Mary Jane McCallum said she would support the bill despite what she called a “drive-by consultation” with Indigenous peoples. And at the last minute, Conservative Sen. Dennis Patterson decided not to proceed with an amendment to delay the bill.
“Ultimately (I) decided that I would go along with my colleagues on the Aboriginal Peoples committee and hold the ministers to account in the days ahead,” he said.
Still, fears about the impacts of cannabis legalization in Indigenous communities persist. In Nunavut, the territory Patterson represents, there are no addiction treatment centres, and the senator said his concerns have not been allayed by a “vague promise of increased funding” for mental health and addiction services in the ministers’ letter.
Patterson said it’s […]
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