Pubdate: Tue, 13 Feb 2018
Source: Standard Freeholder (Cornwall, CN ON)
Copyright: 2018 Cornwall Standard Freeholder
Author: Alan S. Hale
Page: A1


AKWESASNE - If the community gives the go-ahead, Akwesasne could be
the only place with a dispensary for recreational marijuana near
Cornwall when it becomes legal this year.

At its monthly meeting in January, a video of which is posted on
YouTube, the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne (MCA) ran the idea past its
members looking for feedback. It was made very clear during the
presentation the MCA would not pursue the idea if the community is not
in favour of it, but Grand Chief Abram Benedict argued the impending
legalization of marijuana presents the First Nation with an incredible
business opportunity.

"We could have a dispensary on Cornwall Island, and if the market we
are going after is non-Indigenous people, there is potentially a
market to be had," said Benedict. "We're saying that perhaps we should
try to get ahead of the curve and see how we could benefit."

When the Ontario government passed the Ontario Cannabis Retail
Corporation Act, it set out the rules for selling marijuana which say
that it will only be sold in government-owned stores similar to liquor

The province has already listed the cities where the first wave of
stores will be opened, with the nearest one to Cornwall in Ottawa.

So is it even possible for the MCA to open up a recreational cannabis
store of its own? Yes, it is.

A representative from the Ministry of Finance, Deepika Shewaramani,
confirmed this in an email response last week.

"The Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation Act, 2017 authorizes the
Minister of Finance to enter into agreements with First Nations band
councils for the sale and delivery of cannabis on-reserve," said
Shewaramani. "Initial discussions have been taking place between the
province and First Nations communities and organizations. The province
will continue to work with Indigenous communities and organizations to
establish a formal process for engaging Indigenous communities on
retailing on reserve."

When asked what limitation would be placed on that ability to sell
cannabis, Shewaramani said there are no formal agreements yet, so what
conditions might be agreed to are not clear.

If Akwesasne does decide to go ahead with pursuing a recreational
marijuana dispensary, it would not be the first venture into the
growing cannabis market made on Cornwall Island. Back in October, it
was announced a company called Seven Leaf is opening medicinal
marijuana growing facility there, provided it get licensing. One of
the first questions community members asked the MCA executive last
month was what impact having a dispensary would have on the Seven Leaf
facility. The answer, according to the Grand Chief, is none - the two
initiatives would be completely separate from each other.

The MCA is intentionally keeping Seven Leaf at arms-length while it
considers a dispensary. The company asked to be a part of the working
group that has been exploring the idea, but was told it couldn't join.
This was done to prevent any bias being introduced into the group's

Part of the reason a dispensary is an appealing option for the MCA is
as a revenue-generating tool. Benedict pointed out the American
portion of Akwesasne in St. Regis rakes in money because the tribe
gets paid a percentage of every gas and tobacco sale there. The island
does not have those revenue sources, but the ability to sell marijuana
could help make up for it.

"I think that opening a dispensary that sells to (people from outside
of Akwesasne) and provides a collective benefit is an opportunity we
should look at. That could subsidize existing programs and create new
ones," said the Grand Chief.

That all being said, a band-owned dispensary will not go ahead without
community approval. The MCA has already sent out an opinion survey to
members, but education sessions or even a referendum are on the table
as well.

Feedback from members at the January meeting was varied.

Some people wondered about the legal questions around A kw es a sn e'
s own intoxicants law, others worried about complications at the U.S.
border that runs through the community. One person wondered if the MCA
is trying to cut down on opiate abuse on the island by getting people
to switch to marijuana, Benedict said that was absolutely not the case.

Another wanted to make sure the Mohawk police would be up to the task
of enforcing whatever rules are set up.
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MAP posted-by: Matt