First Nations leaders in B.C. calling for changes to cannabis laws

First Nations leaders in British Columbia say that the province must stop excluding nations from benefits of the cannabis industry and are calling for changes to the current laws.

The First Nation Leadership Council, which consists of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, First Nations Summit and B.C Assembly stated First Nations have inherent rights to oversee, process, sell and consume cannabis within their territories.

But five years after legalization, Canada and B.C. don’t recognize that jurisdiction in their current cannabis legislation.

Hugh Braker, an executive from First Nations Summit, said there’s a division in the cannabis industry.

“There are those that work within the provincial and federal rule, and then there is the unregulated cannabis industry who feel that Canada and Canada don’t recognize First Nations jurisdiction appropriately,” he said. “So they work outside of the regulated industry.”

The council represents more than 200 nations and want the federal and B.C. governments to align their cannabis laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

Braker said that First Nations operating in the unregulated industry could face legal action if either government wanted to challenge the nation’s rights.

The council wants First Nations to have jurisdiction, revenue sharing and taxation rights over cannabis sold within their boundaries.

It said these changes would allow communities to benefit from legalized cannabis.

“We have inherent rights that existed before the arrival of Europeans to develop our economics and to use our territories and lands as we wished, and then we have also got that strengthened by UNDRIP,” he said.

Braker is doubtful that the changes to the laws will come anytime soon.

“I don’t see this really resolving itself in the near future; there is still resistance from the government with respect to First Nations’ inherent jurisdiction, and the Federal and Provincial Governments have not yet talked about loosening those restrictions with respect to First Nations,” he said.

In an emailed statement to APTN News, the province’s Ministry of Public Safety said officials are working with First Nations.

“B.C. is actively working with First Nations and key Indigenous partners to understand their interests in the cannabis sector, including with respect to governance and jurisdiction, “ the ministry statement read.

The statement said the province has entered into agreements with multiple nations related to pot.

“To date, B.C. has entered seven government-to-government agreements with Indigenous Nations that support their full participation in the cannabis sector,” the ministry said.

The statement said the province recently finished an engagement open to all First Nations on cannabis governance and jurisdiction and were in a meeting with the First Nations Leadership Council and a Federal Expert Panel reviewing the Cannabis Act.

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