Pot shops cropping up across First Nations communities in legal grey zone
Published Friday, December 4, 2020 10:39PM EST
TORONTO -- Troy Antone calls himself a cannabis entrepreneur. He was in the cigarette business, but changed after the Trudeau government made cannabis legal two years ago.
His store, on Oneida Territory, operates with COVID-19 protections, a security guard, but no regulatory oversight. And he’s not alone: cannabis shops are opening up in First Nations communities across Canada, even as First Nations leaders - like those in British Columbia -- have been trying to launch discussions with provinces on ways Indigenous communities can also participate in the cannabis business.
Ontario, for its part, says it's willing to accommodate First Nations communities on cannabis regulations, but no agreements have been reached so far.
Antone says stores like his are providing employment within his community, but experts in First Nations Law say these stores operating without a licence fall into a legal grey area.
“Chiefs and councils and bands essentially have been strongly encouraged to develop their own cannabis frameworks, their own by-laws, to regulate the distribution or the sale of cannabis on reserve," said Alisa Lombard, a partner with Semaganis Worme Lombard who is experienced in complex legal and policy issues involving Indigenous-Crown relations and reconciliation.
But this also means rules could be different in every indigenous community.
"These pot shops are not illegal in the sense that there is no defined provisions,” according to Isadore Day, former Regional Chief of Ontario with the Assembly of First Nations and Bimaadzwin founder and CEO.
For Antone, the two-row wampum belt is the Iroquois treaty agreement with the Crown and all he needs to sell his cannabis.
"It comes right to my house. Everything's delivered through the mail. It comes right to the reserve legitimately," he said. With prices generally lower than stores regulated by the provincial government, customers come from nearby cities and towns to buy at his store.
But one mother, who asked not to be identified, also says there are too many on her reserve.
"No matter where you go on the rez there's a weed shop. And our kids, they're riding the buses everyday and that's what they see," she said.
But Antone says this is about providing for himself and his family.
"I was able to put a new roof on my house, and I'm thinking about putting an addition on my house. And this is all without going through the band office."