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National Indigenous Medical Cannabis Association is launched

by papapuff » Mon Mar 27, 2017 3:50 pm


National Indigenous Medical Cannabis Association is launched

VIDEO:Speech by Kevin Daniels, National Vice President, NIMCA

By Tom Keefer

TYENDINAGA MOHAWK TERRITORY – On Saturday, March 25th, over 30 Indigenous people gathered in Tyendinaga to formally launch a national Indigenous organization to promote and defend the Indigenous relationship to the cannabis plant.

Named NIMCA – the National Indigenous Medical Cannabis Association – the association is aiming to have branches in every province in Canada. Saturday’s meeting was a followup to an initial meeting held in Tyendinaga on January 28th, 2017.

At the meeting an interim National Executive was selected and sworn in. The national organization is comprised of representatives from each province and a President, Secretary and Treasurer. The composition of the National Executive is as follows: Tim Barnhart (Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory), President; Kevin Daniels (Gordon First Nation), Vice-President; Lynda Laween (Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory), Treasurer; Andrew Bainsbridge, Manitoba representative; Antoinette Cruz, British Columbia representative; Kim Dessarlais, Saskatchewan representative; Brian Marquis (Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory), Ontario representative; Alvin Manitopyes, Alberta representative; Dave Moss, Yukon representative; Clifton Nicholas (Kanehsatake), Quebec representative.

The terms of office of all national executive members is for 5 years, at which point a new executive will be elected by the membership.

The various provincial organizations may have smaller regional boards, and are affiliated to the larger national whole. Ontario is currently the only province to have a fully formed board. Its board met after the national meeting and agreed to affiliate to the national organization. The members of the Ontario board are: Brian Marquis (Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory), President; Rob Stevenson, Vice-President (Alderville First Nation); Wendy Phillips (Wasauksing First Nation) Secretary/Treasurer, and board members Jordan Brant (Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory), Neecha Duplais (Ojibway Nation of Saugeen), Jamie Simon, and Kevin Shaganash (Constance Lake First Nation).

The Ontario organization is now involved in a membership drive. Individual memberships cost $25. Both the national and the provincial organization will be headquartered at 346 York Rd, in Tyendinaga at the New Legacy 420 building. The national executive will be meeting quarterly.
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by papapuff » Tue Mar 28, 2017 10:14 am

Montreal Gazette

Not a pipe dream: Aboriginals set sights on selling marijuana

Published on: March 28, 2017

With the federal government on the verge of creating a multi-billion dollar legal marijuana industry, Brian Marquis worries aboriginal people will be left high and dry.

Marquis, 57, is a patient at the Legacy 420 dispensary on the Tyendinaga Mohawk territory near Kingston, Ont. And after nearly three years of frequenting the business, he says he has seen the financial potential and medical benefits of cannabis.

Now he wants to see storefront dispensaries sprout up in reserves across Canada: providing an economic engine that will help lift indigenous people out of poverty and, he says, provide an antidote to Canada’s opioid addiction crisis.

One of Marquis’s Quebec associates told the Montreal Gazette there is interest in opening dispensaries in the Kanesatake Mohawk territory as well as on Algonquin and Innu reserves.

This may seem like a pipe dream, but Marquis recently took steps to make this a reality. On Monday, Marquis signed legal papers incorporating the National Indigenous Medical Cannabis Association — a group aimed at regulating the sale of medical marijuana within Canada’s indigenous territories.

The organization met in Tyendinaga last week to elect representatives from 10 provinces, establish bylaws and schedule its next board election in 2022.

“We’re not waiting for the federal government on this, we’re going to do what we have to do,” said Marquis, who was elected president of NIMCA’s Ontario chapter. “Canada can do its own thing, we’re a sovereign people on sovereign land. They’re not going to stop us.”

About 130,000 people buy cannabis through Health Canada’s medical marijuana program, ordering it directly from one of 40 federally licensed producers. Experts say it’s these licensed producers — some of which are valued north of $1 billion — that will come to dominate the recreational market when the federal government legalizes it in 2018.

As it stands, the legal system works against the dispensary model that Marquis’s group advocates. Under the Criminal Code, it’s illegal to sell medical marijuana out of a storefront.

But Marquis argues that the Mohawks’ status as a sovereign people — codified in colonial-era documents like the Jay Treaty, Simcoe Deed and Two Row Wampum Treaty — shields dispensaries from criminal prosecution, federal regulation and taxation.

This could prove problematic if the dispensaries openly court a non-indigenous clientele, one police source told the Montreal Gazette. And while Legacy 420 enjoys a good working relationship with the Tyendinaga band council, there’s no guarantee this will be the case on other territories.

“If it’s the will of the people to have a dispensary here, then so be it,” said Serge Simon, Grand Chief of the Kanesatake Mohawk band council. “I think it’s something that would be best regulated through band council. You don’t want this to become a free-for-all. One thing’s for sure, nothing happens without the community’s say so.”

Clifton Nicholas is NIMCA’s Quebec representative and a lifelong resident of Kanesatake. Nicholas says a dispensary in Kanesatake would be a net plus for the Mohawk community of 1,600. The 45-year-old says he’s reaching out to other indigenous communities to recruit new members into NIMCA — which will set quality-control standards and other regulations within the industry.

After electing a provisional board of governors for the Quebec chapter, Nicholas says he’ll register it as a corporation. After that, he’ll work on securing financial backing for a dispensary on the North Shore Mohawk territory.

“This isn’t a cash grab, we’re going to be fully above board, fully regulated and the money’s going right back into the community,” said Nicholas, a documentary filmmaker. “About two years ago, we had a young man here die of an opiate overdose and many here struggle with addiction. I see cannabis as a way of curbing that opiate use.”

An American study, released Monday, found that hospitals in states with legal recreational marijuana are seeing a 23 per cent drop in the number of people seeking treatment for opioid addiction. The study also suggests a 13 per cent drop in treatment for opioid overdoses.

Marquis says it was cannabis that helped him taper off painkillers after he slipped on a patch of ice and broke his back 12 years ago. At the peak of his opioid use, Marquis was popping four 80 mg pills of OxyContin every day.

“I went to my doctor, I said, ‘Doc, I think I’m gonna just quit these things, they’re not really working for me,’ ” said Marquis. “He laughed, he slapped his knee and he said, ‘Brian, you will never get off those.’ After that I got my medical licence to use cannabis and never took a pill again. It wasn’t perfect, I’m not one of these people who claims it cures everything, but it helped me with the withdrawal.”

Nicholas compares the potential of cannabis dispensaries to that of the aboriginal tobacco trade — a billion dollar market dominated by the Mohawks in upstate New York, Quebec and Ontario. Through a series of court victories, Canada has recognized the Mohawks’ right to manufacture and sell cigarettes on-reserve without charging sales tax to other aboriginal people.

In reality, however, many non-indigenous Canadians take advantage of the tax loophole and buy cigarettes at a heavily discounted rate on reserves. This gave rise to a business that, while it operates in a legal grey area, has afforded the Mohawks a level of economic independence enjoyed by few other nations across Canada.

But Nicholas also offers a word of caution.

“With tobacco, there’s this trap of just making money and not necessarily giving it back to the community,” he said. “Cannabis has to be about the creating something sustainable, something where we reinvest the profits in our languages, our culture and traditions. It’s an industry of the future, it’s something that’s breaking new ground in the medical field, but it’s also something that can help us preserve our past.”
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by papapuff » Thu Apr 13, 2017 12:21 pm

First Nations aim to capitalize on economic opportunity of legal pot industry

Some already investing in medical marijuana, want Ottawa to include them in discussions

By Tim Fontaine, CBC News Posted: Apr 13, 2017

First Nations want to be among those cashing in on what could become a multibillion-dollar industry if the federal government follows through on making marijuana a legal recreational drug in Canada.

The Trudeau government's goal is to make legalization a reality on or before July 1, 2018. Several First Nations are already trying to get into into the business of producing pot.

"It means economic opportunities for First Nations people … and so many First Nations across this country are in such dire straits," said Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, a fly-in community in northern Alberta.

Getting in

Allan said his community is exploring investing in a company that's already producing medical marijuana — as a start. If recreational marijuana is legalized, he said, the First Nation will already have its foot in the door.

"Until it becomes recreational, we have to invest in medical."

Other First Nations have gone beyond exploring and have invested millions in cannabis ventures, like the Wahgoshig First Nation near Kirkland Lake, Ont., which partnered with an Ontario company called DelShen Therapeutics in 2015 to convert a former forestry operation into a facility that will grow "pharmaceutical-grade" pot.

Former Assembly of First Nations head Phil Fontaine also recently moved into the medical marijuana business with his company, Indigenous Roots.

"Our primary interest here, of course, is business opportunities, job creation. It's about the Indigenous economy, job opportunities, and it's about training," Fontaine told CBC News in December 2016.

Business opportunities

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake in Quebec announced in March that it was on a "fact-finding mission," seeking information about the medical cannabis industry. The community's website says the council now has a Cannabis Working Group.

In an email, political press attache Joe Delaronde said the council "has made no secret of its very preliminary exploration of potential business opportunities in the medical marijuana field."

In an appearance on Kahnawake Television, a local station, council Chief Rhonda Kirby said leadership was also investigating other possible opportunities.

"We are looking for partnerships with people that are already licensed providers, and in anticipation of the federal law being passed in 2018, what would that mean for the community if a recreational [marijuana] law was passed?"

At the Assembly of First Nations annual meeting in Gatineau, Que., in December 2016, chiefs unanimously supported a resolution introduced by Chief Adam, which directs the organization to push Ottawa for "priorities and incentives to ensure that First Nations are given the opportunity to participate and benefit fully from the development of this new and emerging sector."

Risks vs. benefits

One issue that's likely going to come up when First Nations invest in recreational marijuana, Adam admits, is the health aspect — especially in those communities that are already grappling with addiction issues.

While he's willing to make money off any new pot industry, Adam said there still needs to be discussion between Canada and Indigenous communities before legalization.

"You can't just impose something that's going to have detrimental effects on our communities," he said.

He wants to see money from the business of pot invested in programs in First Nations communities, especially those aimed at youth.

"It's a win-win situation for Canada and it's a win-win situation for First Nations."
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by papapuff » Sun Apr 30, 2017 11:15 am

Yahoo News

Quebec chief urges caution as First Nations look to capitalize on pot legalization

CBC April 30, 2017

As several First Nations communities consider entering the recreational cannabis business, one prominent Quebec Indigenous leader is sounding alarm bells.

Businesses have approached Indigenous communities in the province in the hopes of setting up pot-production operations, attracted by the tax-free status on reserves.

Given the federal government's plans to legalize marijuana by July 2018, some anticipate pot-production could develop into a multi-billion dollar industry.

But Ghislain Picard, the chief of the Assembly of First Nations for Quebec and Labrador, questions whether First Nations in Quebec have the resources to accommodate such an industry.

"If I look around me today, the concerns regarding the bill, and eventually the law, certainly outweigh the economic opportunities," Picard told CBC Montreal on Friday.

"Speaking of public safety, for instance, we're not equipped the same way the provincial police is equipped, or municipal police of that matter. It's much broader than just recreational aspects and the medical aspects of the product."

Picard argues there needs to be more research and program development before communities enter the commercial marijuana market.

"How do we ensure that a product that is still illegal, which will become legal, how do you make sure you have programs that will prevent abuse?" he asked.

Exploring what's out there

The issue has prompted mixed reactions from First Nations communities in Quebec.

The Huron-Wendat community of Wendake recently rejected any kind of pot business on its territory. But Kahnawake, located on Montreal's South Shore, is considering its options after companies approached the band council.

Chief Gina Deer, who is in charge of Kahnawake's economic development portfolio, contends that recreational marijuana could bring a new source of money and create employment opportunities for the Mohawk territory.

"We've told people that until we meet with the community we can't give a definite answer," said Deer. "It hasn't stopped us from exploring what's out there because this is going to be a very big industry."

Residents for the most part seem to be in favour of legalization and are excited by the prospect of more local jobs. Their support, though, does come with some caveats.

"I think it would be a good idea because of the jobs, but I think it would be safer for the community, making sure it stays out of anybody under the age of 18 hands," said Ciera Lahache.

Investing back into communities

Deer also says that extra financial support would help Kahnawake fund cultural programs that are integral to its survival.

"Our big stride is to regain the language, the culture — we'd like to invest in that," she said. "That's why we go out looking for economic opportunities."

Kahnawake will hold public information sessions with residents in May, but it could still be years before a project breaks ground.

Picard, however, is urging caution. He wants more consultations between First Nations and the federal government in the near future to address both concerns and potential benefits.

"I think there needs to be more talk," he said. "We're meeting our chiefs in less than two months and this issue is definitely on the agenda."
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by papapuff » Tue Jul 11, 2017 10:29 am

Belleville Intelligencer

Police, Chief say Mohawk pot illegal

By Jason Miller, The Intelligencer
Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Mohawk police chief is set to initiate ‘proactive policing’ to address the proliferation of illegal marijuana dispensaries on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.

“There is a plan of action, but I’m not looking to put it out at this point,” said chief Ron Maracle about potential police initiatives to crack down on the dispensaries which have been warned about the risk of continuing operation without proper licences. “I still have another meeting with chief and council, on Monday, before I put my plan in action.”

No raids have been conducted to date, but Maracle said he has met with some of the organizations.

“Technically they are illegal, but obviously there are legalities around that,” he said. “There is some grey area, but they’re illegal.”

The police chief is aware of efforts by the federal government to revamp rules around marijuana use and sale, which has sparked an unprecedented proliferation of dispensaries operations nationwide.

“It’s got to be done properly,” he said. “There has to be a process that allows for these dispensaries to operate in a way that’s not only safe for the community but safe for individuals that are attending them.”

Safety is paramount until the federal rules are clearly defined, said Maracle.

“Until such time, you have no idea what’s being sold,” he said. “That’s part of the issue we’re dealing with as well.”
Maracle said more than five operations have cropped up on the reserve.

“There is a lot more than five,” he said. “It is at a point now, where there has to be some proactive policing conducted. What that will look like is yet to be seen.”

People have been flooding into the reserve to purchase from the establishments, but the police chief warns that they too could be liable for buying from illegal operations.

“They’re not sanctioned, nor do they have any control on what’s being sold, and anybody in there buying from them could be subjected to being charged, until the government passes legislation that makes it OK,” said Maracle.

The grey area created by potential rule changes in Ottawa makes it increasingly difficult for enforcement.

“It’s a grey area,” said Maracle. “They (government) have put the cart before the horse. It’s difficult for enforcement purposes.”

Chief R. Donald Maracle said the Mohawk band council has made it clear it won’t be endorsing the marijuana dispensaries on the territory.

“They’re not legal,” he said. “The police have already gone around to the businesses to make them aware of that. People are anticipating that the laws are going to change, so they’re setting up much earlier than the law.”

Chief Maracle said the dispensaries have not been issued licences by council and there is no plan to do so.

“Council cannot assure the quality of the product,” he said. “Marijuana sold in other jurisdictions has been found to be laced with fentanyl, so that is a concern.”

It is now in the hands of the police.

“The enforcement of the law is a police decision,” said Chief Maracle.
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by papapuff » Tue Jul 18, 2017 1:14 pm

National Post

Legal weed could be a conduit to reconciliation, says former AFN chief

'Clearly the revitalization of First Nations economies is one expression of reconciliation,' said Phil Fontaine

July 18, 2017
3:48 PM EDT

OTTAWA — Former Assembly of First Nations chief Phil Fontaine says his pitch to produce medical marijuana on reserves is getting lots of attention from Indigenous communities hoping to get into a potentially lucrative industry.

About 100 First Nation communities and business interests are keen on the enterprise, he told the National Post this week, though some stigma remains around cannabis and its production.

Fontaine’s own company Ishkonigan launched a partnership in December with licensed weed producer Cronos Group, and will break ground on a flagship operation in Armstrong, B.C. later this summer. Ishkonigan has a 51 per cent share of the venture, which is expected to be operational in about eight months.

The first location is not on a reserve, but the partners intend to franchise operations on Indigenous land across Canada, with communities owning big chunks of each franchise, and thus sharing in the profit.

According to the plan for the fledgling business, called Indigenous Roots, the Armstrong operation would initially have the potential to produce 3,000 kg per year or more, and serve about 8,000 patients. At full capacity it could expect to generate $1.5 million in monthly revenue and create 25 jobs at the facility, plus 15 more for education, outreach, marketing and customer service.

In an interview in Ottawa Monday, Fontaine argued the private sector — though full of powerful influencers and bureaucracies, just like government — can be a major conduit for reconciliation.

“Clearly the revitalization of First Nations economies is one expression of reconciliation. And so that means that we ought to be able to participate and engage in every sector,” he said.

“It’s really about moving away from being dependent on government and creating our own capacity, our own source revenue so that we’re in a position to make our own investment decisions that will be beneficial to the interests of our communities and citizens.”

Many of the major industries located on Indigenous land are connected to resource development, with local communities typically not involved as owners or investors.

But with medical marijuana, and the recreational market that would ultimately result from the Liberal government’s promised legalization, there’s an opportunity for those communities to get in at the beginning of an emerging market. “There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t be a central player in this sector,” Fontaine said.

Part of the appeal comes from tax breaks afforded to businesses located on First Nations territories. “There are obvious tax benefits if we establish on reserve. So we want to take full advantage of that situation,” he said.

“We are focused on providing quality service for a safe, reliable health product. And we want to, of course, focus on wealth creation, capacity building, jobs, training, and all of the ancillary opportunities that will result once we are up and running.”

Products from the operation would be marketed to Indigenous people, whom Fontaine called an “underserved community” as far as medical marijuana goes. The government has done nothing to discourage this plan, Fontaine said.

He also appears optimistic the operation could reap rewards from the recreational market, which would open up by July of next year if the government passes legislation it introduced in the spring.

“We know that the businesses that are now viewed as well-established are going to have an advantage come July 1, 2018, so we recognize that,” he said.

Some First Nations, especially in Ontario and Quebec, are known for tobacco production. Canada’s major contraband tobacco producers are also located on First Nations reserves.

Though Fontaine said his focus has been on medical cannabis and developing in-house expertise in that area, “you just can’t dismiss the know-how that exists out there now. So, I think it makes sense to look at that, and see if there are any benefits to taking advantage of the expertise, the experience and the know-how that’s been developed outside of the legal framework, meaning legalized cannabis.”

Fontaine left politics about eight years ago but didn’t shy from praising the Trudeau government for its “encouraging words” and increasing funding for First Nations issues. He commended the business community for being open to working with Indigenous actors.

“When I think of reconciliation, I think of eradication of mass poverty in our communities. Poverty has paralyzed our communities for a long, long time and so we need to move away from that and create the kinds of economies that will generate … not just the interest but the kind of activity that will make our communities strong, healthy, vibrant places,” he said.

“It’s really believing in ourselves, trusting in our abilities and making every effort to make a real contribution in our own right.”
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by papapuff » Wed Aug 30, 2017 5:37 pm

Peterborough Examiner

Medicine Wheel dispensary owner has dialogue with police

By Valerie MacDonald, Northumberland Today
Wednesday, August 30, 2017

ALDERVILLE - The owner of Medicine Wheel Natural Healing of Alderville First Nation says he has an ongoing dialogue with Northumberland OPP to ensure he meets their concerns about public safety and to let the police know what he is doing.

The new healing, medical marijuana dispensary is located at 8986 County Road 45 and Rob Stevenson says he sells both cannabis and non-cannabis products.

“I hope (the police) will respect our rights,” Stevenson said in an interview at the business that saw hundreds of people visit during last Saturday’s official opening and to register at the first Indigenous medical cannabis dispensary outside of Tyendinaga.

“I don’t have a criminal record” and don’t have criminal ties of any kind and “I feel I’m protected by our United Nations treaty rights to operate this kind of business helping people and my community,” Stevenson explained.

But how the police, who closed down South Shore Wellness on the other side of the county road last year, will act “absolutely is a concern,” Stevenson said quite bluntly.

That’s why Stevenson has a lot of interaction and dialogue with police to meet with them and explain the standards he uses in his business dealing with public-and-product safety, as well as the coming changes when recreational marijuana use is legalized by the federal government next summer.

Officers have been trained that cannabis is an illegal and illicit substance and not about the healing aspects of it, he explained. It will take a longer time to change perception, Stevenson said.

Vehicles were lined up along the roadway during the official opening last Saturday and periodically police patrolled along the county roadway where the Roseneath Rodeo was also taking place last weekend.

“The police were out there but not targeting people from our store,” said Stevenson who is also the Ontario vice-president of the National Indigenous Medical Cannabis Association which is working with Health Canada to get First Nation growers licenced in order to fill the coming shortfall in cannabis products.

The existing federal licencing system is lengthy and too costly for First Nations, he said, where there already exist experienced marijuana growers who are part of the “black market” at this time.

Health Canada allows up to 17 herbicides and pesticides in the marijuana produced by its licenced marijuana growers, but Stevenson’s goal is to have control over natural and organically-grown plants from “seed to sale.”

There is a growing market and this is a good business for First Nations people whom Stevenson vows he will help establish in their own businesses. He already employs 10 Alderville First Nation staff where, among other services, a lab will test grown or purchased marijuana for mould and purity.

In a newsletter about his business, Stevenson is quoted as stating that “anyone else who opens up a dispensary on this reserve, or any other reserve, I’m glad to share any of my information here. I’m documenting everything I’ve done, from security and renovations to training employees, product education...I’m willing to share all this information at no cost to the people who will do do this.

“The reason being, I want to see this done right and I don’t want dispensaries to be seen in a negative light because people are doing them wrong.”

Part of the way Stevenson’s business is accomplishing this is through daily product training for his staff and security procedures he has put in place, aspects of the Medicine Wheel that he brings to the attention of the police.

And if Stevenson is confronted with a criminal element, he will bring that to the attention of the police as well, he said.

Stevenson says he wanted a new business challenge and to help people and his community, and this healing business venture is filling up a void and answering something for which he has been searching a long time.

He has already received all kinds of testimonials from people since his “soft opening” in June who have been helped with pain and other health issues from the use of salves (some with and some without cannabis), “tinctures” or cannabis drops taken orally, and other products containing THC and CBD, separately or together.

Because THC provides a high, growers were breeding CBD out of marijuana plants but are going back to it now because of the benefits not only singularly but in conjunction with THC, he explained.

Stevenson knows the medical benefits himself, having taken medical drugs for years to combat anxiety and panic attacks.

“I’ve been able to get off my medication by using tinctures under my tongue,” he said. “It’s definitely helping.”

Developing a data bank at his business about clients’ medical issues and how they respond to various products is very important, Stevenson explained. People register and the information is kept confidential but the data (minus names and other identification) is shared with the Association to build a larger data bank of knowledge about how cannabis can heal people and manage pain.

“I’ve always felt empty...that I had a deeper purpose,” Stevenson said.

Helping heal people, receiving testimonials, and doing it in his community by employing and training young people in business, is turning that feeling around in Stevenson.

“I’m filling that void,” he said.
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by papapuff » Fri Sep 08, 2017 12:15 pm

Manitoba First Nation makes major investment in pot company

Chief says $3M stake in National Access Cannabis could help in Opaskwayak Cree Nation's fight against poverty

By Sean Kavanagh, CBC News Posted: Sep 08, 2017

CBC News has learned that the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Manitoba has taken a major stake in a medical marijuana company, with an eye to becoming a big player in the sale of pot once it becomes legal.

The First Nation, located approximately 530 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, has purchased $3 million worth — approximately 10 per cent — of shares in National Access Cannabis. The privately held company will be traded publicly for the first time Friday on the TSX Venture Exchange.

OCN Onekanew (Chief) Christian Sinclair said the investment represents a shift in thinking. Where marijuana was once part of the war on drugs, the plant will be now be part of the war on poverty in his community, Sinclair said.

"The fact of the matter is [the sale of marijuana] is happening before our eyes and the only people who are profiting is the black market, so this will bring us to the forefront very quickly."

National Access Cannabis currently operates 10 medical marijuana clinics in cities across Canada.

OCN and other investors in the company are counting on provincial governments allowing the private sector to sell pot to customers, instead of setting up provincially run distributors.

The company will not get into the production of pot, instead relying on federally licensed producers for its supply. Sinclair said the production side of the business carried too many pitfalls.

"We found that to be very high-risk and cash-intensive to get it started," Sinclair said.

On top of that, he said, Health Canada may or may not approve a facility to grow the plants. Sinclair said further study of the industry identified the retail side of the business as having the lowest risk and the potential for the highest return.

Sinclair said members of OCN's economic development team went to a presentation earlier this year by National Access Cannabis at the company's downtown Winnipeg location and were impressed by its business strategy and the expertise of its executive team, including president Derek Ogden.

Ogden had previously been a senior RCMP officer, at one time in charge of the Mounties' national drug enforcement program and acting as director general of the force's organized crime branch.

"That really intrigued us — a person of that stature working in this industry," Sinclair said.

Venture gets approval from OCN elders

Sinclair said the idea of investing in the pot business was vetted and accepted unanimously by OCN's leadership and its council of elders.

"They referred to it not as a drug, but as medicine," Sinclair said.

'It's about time," OCN elder Stan Wilson said of the proposal.

"Indigenous people have this connection to their environment and their relationship to nature and plants, and if we do things the proper way, there are benefits for human beings," Wilson said.

He said the long period where marijuana has been stigmatized by its illegal status strikes a chord.

"We have a history with that, with Europeans, because they outlawed so many of our spiritual practices as well as the use of medicines and so on," Wilson said.

OCN has experienced difficulty in reaping benefits from gambling, as poor turnout at its casino in The Pas prompted its leadership to ask for a gaming licence in Winnipeg — something Premier Brian Pallister flatly rejected.

Sinclair said selling pot and running casinos are two completely different businesses, but he hopes the province gets on board with the private sale of weed.

"This one is a different opportunity … we would hope the province, which is big on economic development, would see this as an opportunity for First Nations and Indigenous communities to participate heavily and actively in this field," Sinclair said.

He said there might be employment opportunities for his members in the retail side of the business, but he hopes the investment will pay dividends OCN can reinvest in the community.

Other Indigenous group eye pot business

The province's Progressive Conservative government has not signaled what its intentions for retailing marijuana are, instead focusing first on public safety issues. The premier has asked Ottawa to delay legalization.

Mark Goliger, the CEO of National Access Canada, sees pitfalls for governments selling pot through their own outlets.

"Would you divert $20 million of taxpayers' [money] out of health care, education, infrastructure support — to create a Cannabis Control Board of Manitoba, to service rural locations, with a hope and a prayer that it's going to return a greater benefit?" Goliger said.

OCN isn't the first Indigenous group to get into the marijuana business. Phil Fontaine, who was previously the grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, is now the lead of Indigenous Roots, a medicinal cannabis company.

The Wahgoshig First Nation near Kirkland Lake, Ont., has partnered with an Ontario company called DelShen Therapeutics to grow "pharmaceutical-grade" pot.
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