Pubdate: Mon, 27 Mar 2017
Source: Intelligencer, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017, The Belleville Intelligencer
Author: Tim Miller
Page: A1


NIMCA gathers to discuss national strategy to fight opiod crisis with

TYENDINAGA MOHAWK TERRITORY - A newly-minted First Nations
organization is hoping to lead, not follow, when it comes to the
regulation and dispensation of marijuana on reserves.

On Sunday, members of the National Indigenous Medical Cannabis
Association (NIMCA) - hailing from provinces across the country -
gathered at the Mohawk Community Centre on the Tyendinega Mohawk
Territory Ontario to discuss its national strategy.

With a federal government, which ran on a platform of legalizing
marijuana in power and a growing opioid crisis across the country,
members say something needs to be done sooner rather than later.

"Now's the time to get everybody together and get moving in order to
just get ahead of the game in terms of legislation," said Jordan
Brant, a board member of NIMCA's regional arm, the Ontario Indigenous
Medical Cannabis Association (OIMCA).

"To make sure the government doesn't try to come in and take over the
industry as it pertains to reservations in particular.

"Eventually, once we're built up in capacity, we plan on putting funds
toward mainly fighting the opioid crisis in the northern provinces and
the western provinces."

On top of setting and enforcing standards for growing and dispensing
cannabis on reserves the group also hopes to put pressure on the
federal government to keep it's promise of legalization.

"Realistically, you can't keep demonizing marijuana and keep saying
it's bad for you," said Brant. "People are starting to ask 'where's
the proof? where's the evidence?' And the fact is there isn't any."

The group is the brainchild of Brian Marquis and Kevin Daniels, who
act as president and vice-president respectively.

Both said they felt strongly about the potential cannabis has in
combatting opioid addiction.

"We just had 11 overdoses overnight. Eleven people dead because of the
opioid crisis in this country," said Daniels, who's from North
Central, Regina, SK.

"Eleven people dead because of the opioid crisis in this country. And
we're here as a national organization to bring forward a national
strategy to combat this opioid epidemic that's happening in our
country. Not just indigenous people, but Canadians. "It's getting out
of control in this country and we need to step up and do what needs to
be done."

"I've seen addicts on Oxycontin or opioids as young as five years
old," said Marquis, adding he doesn't want to hit the panic button,
but he doesn't want to ignore the elephant in the room either.

"We have people that are dying all over the place, we have people
whose lives are totally ruined."

"Our position, from the national association, is to govern ourselves.
To regulate ourselves," said Tim Barnhart, owner of the Legacy420
dispensary on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.

"We've watched how Heath Canada has regulated their industry and all
it has gotten them is three class-action lawsuits and sickened a lot
of people. I think there's a better way forward."

That way would include setting up strategic dispensaries across the
province with an eventual goal to spread across Canada. Barnhart is
currently in the process of building an analytic lab addition to his

"Each First Nation that we set up a dispensary or grow op in, that
product will be sent to Tyendinaga, tested, graded and shipped," he
said, adding testing would be done weekly on all products.

Barnhart said initial response from local band council has been

"They like the idea that it's being regulated and controlled by us,
through fences and cameras and all that sort of thing."

Another facet of the strategy would be standardized education for
anyone involved in the business.

"So growers, dispensary workers, dispensary owners will all be
properly trained," said Rob Stevenson of Alderville First Nation.
"Proper protocol handling, security, all of that kind of stuff. We're
going to have our bases covered."

Stevenson said he's also received some positive initial feedback from
discussions with his local band council, though that feedback has been

That tentativeness derives from the fate of a non-native owned
dispensary which used to operate on the reserve and garnered a
reputation for selling to minors.

"He ended up getting raided and shut down, which is a good thing,"
said Stevenson.

"It's things like that, that we need to control.

Cannabis still carries with it a heavy stigma, he said

"We're trying to change that and it's changing daily."

It's not only damage done from opioid addiction that Clifton Nicholas
from Kanesatake, Que. hopes to see change.

"One of the things that we've seen over the past 20 some odd years
with the influx of cannabis coming into the reserve, and the
prohibition on the part of the government and law enforcement, has
been high levels of violence on the part of police," he said.

"I feel like by doing this, with the National Indigenous Medical
Canada Association, that violence can be taken out of the equation.

Nicholas said he's lost count on how many times he's seen law
enforcement enter this community with armoured vehicles and helicopter
to conduct raids for marijuana.

"Literally going door-to-door kicking people's doors in just like they
do in the West Bank in Gaza in Palestine... over something that's
beneficial to people. Beneficial as a medicine and to the economy.

"It has to stop."

Alvin Manitopyes, who hails from Alberta, said First Nations have an
inherent right to work with these plants.

"That's part of our heritage, it's part of our DNA. And we can use
that as a medicine to help our people."

"This isn't just a right, it's our duty and responsibility," said

"Once band councils and municipalities give us a chance, they're going
to find out that we are for real.

"That we know what we're doing and that we are going to help them with
the opioid crisis."
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