Ottawa Facing Calls From First Nations Groups To Share In Marijuana Proceeds

A growing number of First Nations groups are demanding control over marijuana sales and a portion of the taxes levied when the recreational drug becomes legalized in Canada next year.

Federal officials in Ottawa are busy jousting with provincial and territorial governments over how the money generated by a multibillion dollar marijuana industry will be divvied up. Now, the federal government must also contend with First Nations leaders throughout the country who say they too want to be among those cashing in when marijuana becomes legal in Canada on July 1, 2018.

Several First Nations groups are already moving into the business of producing marijuana.

``It means economic opportunities for First Nations people … and so many First Nations across this country are in such dire straits,`` said Allan Adam, Chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, a fly-in community in northern Alberta.

Mr. Allan told CBC News that his community is exploring investing in a company that's already producing marijuana — as a start. Once recreational marijuana is legalized, he said, the First Nation will already have its foot in the door.

Other First Nations groups have gone beyond exploring and have invested millions of dollars in marijuana ventures – such as the Wahgoshig First Nation near Kirkland Lake, Ontario, which partnered with a company called DelShen Therapeutics in 2015 to convert a former forestry operation into a facility that will grow pot.

Former Assembly of First Nations head Phil Fontaine also recently moved into the marijuana business with his company, Indigenous Roots.

"Our primary interest here, of course, is business opportunities, job creation. It's about the Indigenous economy, job opportunities, and it's about training," Mr. Fontaine said.

At the Assembly of First Nations recent annual meeting, Chiefs unanimously supported a resolution introduced by Chief Adam, which directs the organization to push Ottawa for "priorities and incentives to ensure that First Nations are given the opportunity to participate and benefit fully from the development of this new and emerging sector."

However, it remains to be seen how willing the federal government will be to share the bounty generated through marijuana taxation. Discussions with the provinces and territories on this issue remain ongoing. Another matter that's likely to come up when First Nations invest in recreational marijuana is the health aspect — especially in remote communities that are grappling with addiction issues among their populations.

Still, Mr. Adam told CBC News that First Nations are keen to hold discussions between Ottawa and Indigenous communities regarding the financial benefits of marijuana legalization.

"It's a win-win situation for Canada and it's a win-win situation for First Nations,`` he said.