A Vernon, B.C., cannabis shop without a provincial licence has reopened after its product was seized by the province.
The decision to continue on is part of the store owner’s advocacy for more Indigenous inclusion in B.C.’s cannabis industry.
“I want to be involved in pushing the industry forward in a productive, positive manner,” Tupa’s Joint owner Cory Brewer said.
Brewer, an Okanagan Nation member, feels First Nations people were left out of the development of provincial cannabis regulations.
He feels opening the shop in Vernon was a way to assure that concerns about Indigenous inclusion in the industry weren’t ignored.
“It would let the province know that we are serious about being included in negotiations and going forward within the cannabis industry,” Brewer said.
For the entrepreneur, having an off-reserve shop is also about Indigenous rights.
“We are asserting ourselves within our traditional territory and I’m not trying to hide anything or break the law, Brewer said.
Vernon has more than a dozen provincially licenced pot shops that are already open or coming soon.
“There is so much opportunity within the cannabis industry right now; it’s a new, budding industry. There is opportunity for more diversity and inclusion and Indigenous consultation. I do think we need to consider that,” said Sarah Ballantyne, who owns Spiritleaf, a provincially-licensed cannabis shop in Vernon.
“We have spent so much time obtaining a licence so it would be helpful if everyone followed the same rules, but at the same time I can understand what’s happening.”
The B.C. government said it is “committed to supporting Indigenous participation in the emerging cannabis industry.”
“The province has a joint working group on cannabis with the First Nations Leadership Council, which serves as a key forum for identifying and engaging in Indigenous interests in cannabis,” the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General said in a statement.
However, the provincial ministry responsible said private stores without a provincial authorization are illegal and subject to escalating enforcement.
Brewer stands by his products and is not ruling out licencing in the future.
He hopes the discussion his store has started leads to more cooperation and inclusion, not conflict.
“I’m trying to develop a guideline or a framework for us to work together to see this out in a proper way where First Nations are involved and we are successful,” Brewer said.
The province did announce a online guide on Tuesday that it said will help Indigenous and small-scale cannabis producers navigate licensing.