First Nations left out of marijuana retail plan: FSIN

Indigenous communities raise concerns about Saskatchewan’s marijuana plan
WATCH ABOVE: Indigenous communities are voicing their concerns about Saskatchewan's plan for selling marijuana, saying the province may not have jurisdiction over reserves.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) says the province failed to involve First Nations in the development of the plan for how and where marijuana will be sold.

“We don’t feel like the province has adequately consulted us, we were not involved in the process of consultation from the get-go. We do not know how they came up with their formula, we did not hear about it until the day of their announcement,” FSIN second vice-chief David Pratt said.

READ MORE: Marijuana to be sold in private Saskatchewan stores and online

The provincial government announced this month that across Saskatchewan, 60 cannabis retail permits will be issued in 40 municipalities or First Nation communities with a population of at least 2,500. Along with storefronts, retailers will also be able to sell marijuana online.

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According to lawyer Donald Worme, the province should have consulted with First Nations before unveiling their plan.

“Clearly there is an obligation and a duty to consult when the province in engaged in certain activities that might otherwise impact on treaty or Aboriginal rights,” Worme stated.

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Out of the 60 permits, only three First Nation communities were eligible: Lac La Ronge Indian Band, Onion Lake Cree Nation and Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation.

However for some First Nation communities, this means a long drive to buy marijuana in person.

“We have no population base close by greater than 2,500, so you know there could’ve been sort of a catchment area or some kind of regional approach established so that there is no gaps in access for people,” Sakimay First Nation Chief Lynn Acoose said.

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The closest town that could be issued a permit to Sakimay First Nation is Melville, which is approximately a 45-minute drive.

“In regards to the retail operators in our area, I think they are all probably around an hour away from our area,” White Bear First Nation Chief Nathan Pasap said.

The closest town to White Bear First Nation is Estevan, about an hour away.

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The province plans to assess how effective this initial allocation is and may give additional opportunities 12 to 18 months after legalization.

Another issue is jurisdiction.

“We believe, officially as an organization, that the province has no right to legislate any type of laws within our lands and within our territories,” Pratt said.

The sentiment was echoed by Acoose and Pasap, and one that is leading the two chiefs to take action.

“We will be requesting the Justice Department to create separate legislation for First Nations so that we can become self-regulating and self-determining in that area,” Acoose said.

“We’re going to be looking at drafting our own laws, our own bylaws and our own zoning laws,” Pasap said.

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“We’re going to exert our jurisdiction and do it responsibly.”

READ MORE: Cities to begin zoning marijuana retail stores, proximity to schools a consideration

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said in an email, “We would expect everyone to respect the laws and frameworks that have been designed by both the provincial and federal governments.”

Pasap said he is willing to go to court over the matter.

“If the province and the federal government are reluctant to negotiate with us then we’re going to have to be forced to go down that road.”

The spokesperson said the province “would have to consider our legal options.”

Worme said the issue of jurisdiction ultimately comes back to consultation.

“The delegation of this authority to the provinces comes in viewed with an obligation and a duty to consult First Nations with respect to their authority, to their jurisdictions on Indian reserves.”

With legalization slated for this summer, the discussions will continue and First Nation communities are looking to be included in those talks going forward.