The green marijuana leaves adorning signs and flags next to Highway 97A south of Enderby are hard to miss.
They’re advertising for a cluster of pot shops on the Splatsin reserve.
The cannabis shops are not licensed by the province, but that’s by design, as the chief says B.C. has no jurisdiction on the band’s unceded lands.
“It’s no different than any [other] jurisdiction that we have. For our children, as an example, we’ve taken a position since 1980 that the jurisdiction for our children is not a provincial jurisdiction, it’s ours. We have our own laws and our own processes,” said Splatsin Chief Wayne Christian.
“That’s the same with this. It’s no different.”
Instead of participating in the provincial regulatory system for marijuana sales, Christian says his band will be coming up with its own regulation for cannabis sales.
However, that may create tension with the provincial government which put out a statement on Tuesday saying the province’s “cannabis retail licensing requirements apply across the province, including on reserve and treaty settlement lands.”
“Private cannabis stores operating without a licence from the province are illegal – their products are unregulated, illegally sourced and may not meet Health Canada standards,” said a statement from Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth.
However, Christian said ensuring consumer safety will be a key component of his band’s regulations.
Those locally-developed rules are not expected to be finalized for two or three months.
“When the federal government rolled this out, they never consulted with us so we are having to play catch up in terms of what we actually need to do as a governance entity,” said Christian.
For now, shops are coming up with their own protocols.
“We do send some of our product out to be tested by a third party to ensure that we are getting what we are paying for and for the protection of our clients,” said Joanne Willard, the part owner of one of the shops.
Another shop said it buys its product from licensed growers to ensure quality
The Splatsin Band is hardly alone. Shops operating on band land without provincial licensing have been established elsewhere in the Okanagan.
The provincial minister responsible was not available for an interview.
But the province contends that Indigenous governments have a key role to play within their regulatory system.
“Indigenous governments play a significant role in deciding the number, type, and location of cannabis stores in their jurisdictions, and the province will not open a B.C. Cannabis Store or issue a licence for a private cannabis store on reserve or treaty settlement lands without a positive recommendation from the relevant Indigenous nation,” said the statement from Minister Farnworth.
As for whether the province is planning to carry out enforcement action against shops without provincial licences, the minister’s statement said its enforcement branch “will work with Indigenous communities in consideration of their local needs and interest when carrying-out compliance and enforcement activities.”
Christian said he would like to have discussions with the federal and provincial government on the issue.
When he was interviewed earlier this week he said the band had yet to hear from the province about the on-reserve cannabis shops.
The Splatsin chief said the band is not involved directly in any of the businesses.
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