Pubdate: Tue, 28 Mar 2017
Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Christopher Curtis
Page: A1


Money from reserve dispensaries 'going right back into community'

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

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."

A U.S. study, released Monday, found 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

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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MAP posted-by: Matt