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David Gordon (left), Chief Corporate Officer with PharmaCielo, with the Mamo–the spiritual and medicinal leader of the Arhuacos people with whom PharmaCielo partners. The role of Indigenous communities in Canada’s cannabis sector remains unclear and contentious . A senior executive at one global medical cannabis company believes the answer lies in reimagining the significance of the sector.

David Gordon, chief corporate officer with PharmaCielo Ltd. in Toronto, points to the approach taken by the government of Columbia, where his company works extensively with Indigenous peoples. “It is not as much about building businesses,” says Gordon, “as it is about building the economy.”

Such an approach requires taking a much broader and more long-term view of the industry, he notes. “The intent of the Columbian government is to have cannabis join leading exports like coal and pineapple.”

That goal is mirrored in the relationships PharmaCielo has built with Indigenous communities in the country. Late last year, for example, the medical cannabis company announced that it has received a 500-year-old ancestral cannabis strain for its exclusive use from the Arhuaco Indigenous people. The company received the seeds as part of a traditional ceremony at the site of its nursery and propagation centre in Rionegro, Antioquia. The seeds will be cultivated by PharmaCielo in the Arhuaco’s ancestral territory of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Canada facing hurdles

Such collaboration seems to be less common in Canada. Many Indigenous communities contend they have been excluded, perhaps deliberately, from discussions about the cannabis sector in this country, as noted in the discussion paper, Indigenous Peoples in Today’s Cannabis Industry . The day recreational cannabis became legal in the country, the Six Nations Council, the elected officials of the Six Nations of the Grand River in southwestern Ontario, released a statement that makes both its dissatisfaction with the federal government and its intention to be part of the sector crystal clear.

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In its one-page statement, the council accuses Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government of rushing the implementation process and leaving the provinces, municipalities and First Nations communities scrambling to deal with details on the ground. In addition, it argues, First Nations communities have been excluded from revenue-sharing agreements and no program funding has been earmarked.

However, Health Canada is attempting to “create a path to integrate on-the-ground situations with the legal framework,” Todd Cain, director general of licensing and medical access of the cannabis legalization and regulation branch of Health Canada, told a recent Indigenous cannabis conference in Ottawa. Lewis Mitchell, former Chief of Police for Akwesasne, is now the president of Seven Leaf. When Bill C-45 , the Cannabis Act, was passed last summer, it spelled out a cost-sharing arrangement with the provinces that would give the federal government 25 percent of cannabis tax revenue.

Canada’s most populated First Nations is working to be actively and effectively engaged in the sector. The Six Nations Council has begun establishing a cannabis control process for the community and, ultimately, is looking to “develop a law that both promotes economic wealth while protecting the health and safety of our community,” the statement notes.

At present, Canada’s governmental approach to the cannabis sector focuses on individual models of conducting business as opposed to an economic model, Gordon argues. But excluding First Nations from that model does not mean those communities will not seek out their own opportunities, he cautions. “Indigenous communities have their own conversations and their own channels.”

That was apparent in February when an Indigenous cannabis conference was held in Ottawa. The foundation of the three-day event was the belief that involvement in the cannabis sector should have been part of the federal government’s […]

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