Businesses with identified First Nations affiliations make up only 5% of Canada’s licensed cannabis producers, a fact that indigenous leaders blame on the federal government’s failure to adequately consult with communities over the legalization of marijuana.
Six of Canada’s 115 licensed producers have affiliations – including financial or other partnerships – with First Nations communities or organizations, according to data provided by Health Canada to Marijuana Business Daily.
What’s more, only 18 of the 588 applications – or 3% – in the pipeline to be licensed cultivators have identified indigenous affiliations.
Isadore Day, CEO of the consultancy Bimaadzwin, said the federal government largely failed to address issues raised by indigenous communities in the Cannabis Act.
“We have 634 First Nations across the country, and every one of them will tell you there was simply not enough time,” he said. “The reality of the federal government not consulting us in a meaningful and timely manner is leaving us out of the full opportunity and benefit we could have had in this industry.”
‘Our challenges more complex’
First Nations businesses and people on reserves do not enjoy “fee simple ownership” (outright ownership of land and control over development) and do not have the same property rights as all other Canadians who live off reserve, Seven Leaf President Lewis Mitchell said.
Seven Leaf of Akwesasne Mohawk Nation aims to be among Canada’s first approved, indigenous-owned and -operated producers of medical cannabis.
“As an on-reserve First Nations applicant, our challenges are more complex,” Mitchell said. “Without home and land ownership enjoyed by other Canadians, indigenous businesses and their owners are not in the position to access funding from banks.”
Located near Cornwall, Ontario, Seven Leaf repurposed a former water bottling plant in Akwesasne in the hopes of becoming a licensed producer.
It has been in the applicant queue for about four years.
“In order to retain control of the ownership, our company and others like us must be more creative and aggressive in attracting investors required to launch a commercial cannabis production,” Mitchell said.
“Our community, and others across Canada, continue to point out that First Nations are not directly benefiting from the upside of the cannabis industry, such as community investment, directed funds to youth education and addictions.”
Outreach efforts ongoing
To help foster economic development, Health Canada has offered a service to help indigenous applicants navigate the application process. Indigenous entrepreneurs can contact the Navigator service at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another program to assist First Nations is the Community Opportunity Readiness Program, which offers capacity development, feasibility and construction of regulated cannabis activities.
But help isn’t coming only from the government. The first national conference on indigenous business opportunities and health related to the cannabis industry will be held Nov. 19-21 at Grey Eagle Resort, Alberta.
The National Indigenous Cannabis & Hemp Conference will feature indigenous experts from the medical, legal and business fields who have already entered the cannabis market.
Marijuana Business Daily is a co-sponsor of the event.
“Being able to attract senior indigenous leaders – chiefs, council members, economic development, health and law enforcement authorities – will create a dynamic marketplace for the exchange of ideas and stimulating business,” conference chairman Howard Silver said.
Day, formerly a regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, said the conference is going hit on prevalent trends and bring participants up to speed on First Nations-related industry participation issues.
“It’s going to allow us to set a standard for a national indigenous conference,” he said.
“Given that First Nations have not been adequately consulted or engaged, we are going to want to walk out of this conference with the ability to help affect the national discourse.”