Why some Indigenous leaders call on BC cannabis law reform

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“First Nations businesses also continue to be challenged by excessive taxation and onerous regulations,” said the BC Assembly of First Nations in a statement.

As the BC Cannabis Summit continues in Kelowna this weekend, Indigenous leaders in British Columbia are calling on the government to change the legal framework surrounding the cannabis industry in their communities.

The BC Assembly of First Nations said this week, five years after legalization, Canada’s framework “still does not provide appropriate avenues for coordination between jurisdictions or appropriate fiscal relationships that reflect the recognition of First Nations’ jurisdiction over cannabis.”

“First Nations businesses also continue to be challenged by excessive taxation and onerous regulations,” the group said in a statement.

Indigenous leaders like Thomas Tyler Bob, of the Snaw-naw-as (Nanoose) First Nation says they are “exercising their sovereign rights.”

“We were never consulted when the government announced they were going to be legalizing cannabis, so they’re trying to do that now and it’s like Johnny-come-lately.”

Not everyone feels the same. The Okanagan Cannabis Collective, a group of at least 14 cannabis retailers, sued the provincial government last year in an attempt to close down black-market shops on reserves. Those stores operating outside the legal framework are able to undercut off-reserve stores on price.

Group spokesperson Marianna Wolff says its “unfortunate” how cannabis legalization was rolled out.

“There’s a lot of murkiness around who has to follow what regulations and who the regulations are meant for, especially in terms of whether or not your business is on First Nations or not on First Nations territories. I know it’s frustrating for both sides nobody wants to be made to feel like they’re getting ripped off or getting the short end of any stick.”

One of the organizers of the BC Cannabis Summit, David Hurford says many of the cannabis farmers and processors in BC are Indigenous, “have their own language their own way.”

“It isn’t the cannabis necessarily that is special about BC it’s the people growing it and the place that the cannabis is grown.”

Hurford says the best thing about the summit gathering is the chance for all parties to meet face-to-face to hash out their differences.

“This industry has the potential to be huge. It is huge right now it’s give or take a $4 billion industry, you know, $2 billion legal, $2 billion, not so much. And that’s with no promotion. So that’s on par with wineries , it’s on par with the film industry,” Hurford says.

Attendees said they’re looking forward to hearing what Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth had to say when he gave a keynote speech on Saturday.

Hurford says he has noticed a shift since David Eby took over as premier, “we have noticed a real difference, a shift with the provincial government, the NDP is still in power, but it is a new premier and a new administration.”

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