Kahnawake Draft Cannabis Legislation will prevent problems that occurred within the tobacco industry

Proposed in Kahnawake’s draft cannabis legislation is a a two-pronged licensing system, which will require approval from Health Canada and indigenous community members


Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Located on the south shore of Quebec’s St. Lawrence River is the Kanien’kehá:ka community of Kahnawake. This First Nations Reserve sits south of Montreal, where the countdown is on for cannabis legalization in Canada.

However, for the indigenous people living on Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, the grass doesn’t seem to be greener on the other side just yet.

Members of the indigenous community are contributing to the development of Kahnawake’s proposed law, due to the tribal nation feeling somewhat neglected by the government since the Cannabis Act was passed.

The Kahnawake draft cannabis legislation, named the Cannabis Control Law, is currently in its final stages.

Kahnawake draft cannabis legislation receiving input from indigenous community

Cannabis legislation in Kahnawake is now being amended and created through the Community Decision-Making Process.

“Until the governments really want input from First Nations, because we’ve seen it’s been very minimal, we have to continue to move forward,” said the chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK), Gina Deer.

Just a couple of weeks back, on August 21, Kahnawake residents were presented with an opportunity to provide their own personal input on the Kahnawake draft cannabis legislation. This was the first time they were able to do so since the draft was initially released.

So far, the MCK have arranged two separate sessions to discuss the tribal nations’ approach to legislation. Group representatives claim that Quebec’s cannabis laws will not apply on indigenous territory.

“The exclusive right and jurisdiction to regulate and control cannabis within its territory,” is being invoked by Quebec’s cannabis regulations, representatives say.

“We’ve always done things on our own jurisdiction. It’s our territory and we govern it as we see fit and I think that Quebec is accustomed to that,” explained Deer.

Kahnawake cannabis sales and consumption prohibited under age 21

Unlike in Quebec where people aged 18 and above will be able to legally buy and consume weed when the Cannabis Act goes into effect, the Kahnawake draft cannabis legislation has increased the age limit to 21.

Also proposed in Kahnawake’s draft cannabis legislation is a two-pronged licensing system. This system will require approval from Health Canada and indigenous community members who are interested in being a part of the legal weed industry.

According to Jeremiah Johnson, the Health Canada license is not a great idea. Johnson, who previously submitted a request to the Mohawk Council for legal cannabis, thinks that it will damage Kahnawake jurisdiction.

“We understand that we protect our jurisdiction and our sovereignty. The last thing we want to do is to impose outside federal laws on our territory and our people,” said Johnson.

Learning a lesson from Kahnawake’s tobacco industry

If history were to repeat itself, Kahnwake’s legal weed market could be severely unregulated, causing quality assurance problems and potential fraud charges for cannabis producers and store owners. This is what happened to Kahnawake’s tobacco industry.

Previously, in an attempt to defend its own jurisdiction, MCK attempted to deter business owners from obtaining federal and provincial licenses for cigarette production and manufacturing. Deer thinks that the two-pronged licensing system proposed in the Kahnawake draft cannabis legislation is being suggested due to the community’s lack of industry knowledge and ability to conduct quality assurance.

“For us, health and safety is first and foremost and it’s only responsible for us to take what is out there and utilize it. It doesn’t give them the jurisdiction over the territory,” she said. “The long-term goal is for us to train ourselves and use our own people to do these things. But until we get to that point we have to outsource.”

Deer also said that, by taking things into their own hands, Kahnawake community members and business owners can steer clear of fraud and trafficking charges; problems that surfaced in the tobacco industry due to lack of regulations.

“We want everything to be so that we can have an industry and not worry about people being arrested,” said Deer.

After a number of cigarette shack-style dispensaries opened their doors in First Nations territories, the issue was brought up at a moratorium in October of last year.

Greenleaf managed to sidestep the predicament for a while. The Kahnawake-based cannabis dispensary launched in spite of the moratorium, only to be shut down by the Kahnawake Peacekeepers on two separate occasions thereafter.