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Cannabis market provides growth, job opportunities to Sask. First Nation

From ctvnews.ca link to article by Creeson Agecoutay, Nov 13th 2019

REGINA — It has been one year since Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation opened Mino-Maskihki “Good Medicine” Cannabis Dispensary, and Chief Anthony Cappo says it has been challenging but overall successful.

“We didn’t think we would last this long, having to carve out this little bit of space for our nation in this growing economy. That’s kind of been the focus and at the same time we’re looking at providing affordable and accountable product to our members,” said Chief Cappo.

Muscowpetung is the first reserve to open its own dispensary under its own legislation without a provincial permit. It is now seen as a trailblazer for Indigenous owned cannabis dispensaries in the province. Chief Cappo has maintained that the First Nation has a sovereign right to pass its own cannabis regulations on its own land and territory, pointing to the Treaty relationship between Indigenous people, the Crown and the Canadian government.

“We value the Treaty that was signed back in 1875 by our late chief. For us, we take this as a rebuilding up relations with the government through Treaty and understanding that we’re all Treaty people and we must work together to enjoy the bounties of the land,” said Chief Cappo.

Cannabis became legal in Canada October, 2018. Saskatchewan used a lottery to award 51 licenses to sellers. Chief Cappo says Muscowpetung should have been included in those discussions.

“When the federal government decided to make cannabis legal, there was no consultation with First Nations. The province decided to do a lottery, again both levels of government failed to consult with Muscowpetung. The whole system was not designed for us. We looked at avenues for us to participate with the licenses, as well as the retail. We were not given an opportunity to participate in this growing megatrend. I attempted to talk with the province, they sent me to the Aboriginal desk, we sat down and had one meeting but there was no follow up. All we wanted to do was carve out our little space.”

A year and a half ago, Chief Cappo says 80 of its members were living on social assistance. Thanks to the dispensary it has created 30 new jobs with many working as staff with Mino-Maskihki and Muscowpetung Security Patrol was also formed to protect the people and the dispensary. Claude Cappo previously worked in Regina with Impact Security but is now working with Muscowpetung’s security company. He says he’s happy to be back home.

“Making sure people are safe and everything is running smoothly and we also have our own patrol vehicles and do nightly patrols,” added Claude.

Dianna Young use to work with the local convenience store. For the last year, she has been working as an assistant manager at Mino-Maskihki.

“It’s not just about cannabis. It’s about good medicine, it’s about helping people. We grew as a family with our customers and our patients and it’s actually pretty awesome,” said Young.

The revenue generated from the dispensary also goes directly back to the community. The First Nation has been able to purchase sports and recreation vehicles and also provide new equipment for the local girl’s hockey team.

“We have a Muscowpetung sports and rec project that we have been planning and working on for our youth and we’ll continue to work towards that. Utilizing the revenues to not only create employment for our members but opportunities for our children to participate in the sports and arts, we want to provide that space for them,” said Chief Cappo.

In a statement to CTV News, the Ministry of Justice says it is not in current communication with Muscowpetung First Nation and its unauthorized dispensary. They added, “The Federal Cannabis Act and Saskatchewan’s Cannabis Control Act applies across Saskatchewan. Our priority is to ensure the safety of Saskatchewan citizens by restricting the spread of black market cannabis that is grown and sold in contravention to federal legislation and regulations.”

Chief Cappo says their products are safe and better quality than provincial and federal standards and added provincial law does not apply on a First Nation.

The First Nation also filed a statement of claim in Regina Court of Queen’s Bench on Nov. 16, 2018. It wants a declaration that provincial and federal cannabis laws do not apply on its land. Saskatchewan and Ottawa are both named in the filing but the Ministry of Justice says the it has still not received the Statement of Claim from Muscowpetung. Chief Cappo says he would much rather have the government come back to the negotiating table.

Muscowpetung is now looking to grow its own product with plans to build a facility as early as next year.

“What we’re doing in Muscowpetung is legitimate and that’s our focus. Even the way we designed our laws, we’ve mirrored the provincial and federal regulations. Ensuring we’re focused on accountability, affordability and quality,” said Chief Cappo.

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