Seven cannabis dispensaries have opened in Pikwàkanagàn First Nation.
The dispensaries opened without government consent, including the band council. About 450 people live on the reserve west of Ottawa. The dispensaries now employ about 90 people and pay wages of about $2.8 million a year.
None of the dispensaries have been fined or raided by police.
“We saw that the industry was moving forward, and if we didn’t move soon, the industry would leave us behind,” said Greg Sarazin an ex-chief, who opened Smoke Signals.
“We are doing it based on the sovereign right of the Algonquin people” he added.
No First Nation in Ontario has the population base to apply for a license. Like other dispensaries on Indigenous territories, those in Pikwàkanagàn sell un-licensed product.
Business owners say their products have been tested, they’re interested in community safety and they want to self-regulate. Six of the seven dispensaries have formed a business association.
Sarazin said at a national conference on Indigenous hemp and cannabis conference, “We found that there was so much that was undefined.”
The conference had 300 attendees from across Canada.
Pete Bernard opened the most recent dispensary in Pikwàkanagàn in December, ripping up his yard to build the store. He didn’t want to wait for the jurisdictional confusion to settle to make his business move.
Although Bernard owns his house, he does not own the land it’s on. That created another wrinkle for him as a business owner and he had to finance the construction on his own.
Bernard said most of his customers come from Petawawa, Pembroke, Eganville, Killaloe and Renfrew, although some come from as far away as Ottawa.
Taking a chance
Bernard admitted to a significant level of risk.
“It’s scary when you know you can be shut down,” he said.
Ontario’s hub of cannabis is Tyendinaga, which is reportedly home to at least 50 dispensaries.
The Tyendinaga Mohwak Council has held a series of meetings to discuss cannabis operations and decided to adopt interim regulations governing recreational cannabis. A final regulatory regime is to be presented and ratified by April.
Alderville First Nation on Rice Lake near Cobourg has developed its own “cannabis model,” which includes standards for youth protection, health and safety, labeling and a complaints process.