Kahnawake, Kanesatake deal with challenges as Mohawk territories address cannabis legalization
Kahnawake’s freshly passed Cannabis Control Act will bring legal cannabis to the Mohawk territory south of Montreal, but it will by no means be a free-for-all.
“We decided to create a law that would allow some distribution, some manufacturing, some sales within, but we’re certainly having strict guidelines and following Health Canada guidelines,” said Chief Rhonda Kirby of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake.
Kahnawake wanted to make sure cannabis stores didn’t pop up all over the area the way tobacco shops did.
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“I hardly think there’s going to be several manufacturers or distributors or dispensaries. We are looking at a limited number,” Kirby explained.
There has been a moratorium on selling cannabis in Kahnawake since 2017, and it will continue as the council irons out the details of its new law.
“There was one individual who started selling, and they’ve been closed down three or four times now. There’s still a moratorium, and peacekeepers will shut down anyone who does try to open any type of facility,” Kirby said.
She added that it will take several months before the new law is fully implemented.
“We’re looking at setting up a Cannabis Control Board, who will be responsible for giving out permits. We’re also looking at a Health and Safety Committee, who would be responsible to give recommendations to the Cannabis Control Board on the number of facilities, whether it’s distribution or manufacturing,” she explained.
In Kanesatake Mohawk territory west of the island, things are different.
Grand Chief Serge Simon says a Kahnawake-style law would not currently be possible.
“Well, good for them,” said Simon. “They have the luxury of doing that because they have a police force.”
Kahnawake has peacekeepers to enforce its new cannabis rules, but Kanesatake’s own native police force dissolved over a decade ago after then-chief James Gabriel made plans to expand it.
“Some members of the community reacted to that new force coming in by surrounding the police force and keeping them sequestered for two and a half days,” recounted Simon.
Meanwhile, the grand chief says cannabis entrepreneurs are sprouting up all over his territory.
“I’ve already got five or six and I’ve got many more planning to open. What am I going to do? I have no police force. What am I going shut them down with, the SQ? I don’t think so,” he said.
Given the history of the Quebec provincial police’s role in the Oka Crisis, a land dispute that took place in 1990, Simon doesn’t think provincial police shutting down Mohawk cannabis businesses would be well received.
“There are still the ghosts of 1990, so to speak, that kind of force us to be more cautious than we normally would,” he said. He thinks getting a new federally subsidized police force would allow him to begin regulating cannabis in Kanesatake.
Simon plans to consult his community on the cannabis issue in the coming weeks.
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