By Eve Cable, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
THE EASTERN DOOR
After five years of discussions, planning, and uncertainty, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) voted to officially enact regulation concerning dispensaries and dispensary licences in Kahnawake, paving the way for the first licences to be handed out in the coming months.
“There will be a prequalifying stage for applicants, and once they pass that there’s a more in-depth review of the application,” said MCK chief Tonya Perron, who holds the portfolio for cannabis regulation.
Perron emphasized that at this stage, there are only going to be three permits issued to community members, in keeping with community feedback during the creation of the Kahnawake Cannabis Control Law.
If more than three applicants apply, as Perron expects will be the case, the permits will be assigned by a lottery system by the Cannabis Control Board (CCB).
It’s expected that applications will open early in the new year, at a date that will be set by the CCB, currently composed of Tara Jacobs and David Diabo. The board is seeking a third member after Rhonda Kirby’s resignation in October of this year. Perron said that Kirby’s replacement will likely be hired next week, though the board has been
operational for the past months as it has been able to meet quorum with two members.
“We will have someone appointed who will be immediately trained. They’ll be given a crash course on everything, and they will then immediately join the two current board members,” Perron said.
Though Monday’s council vote meant that the moratorium on the sale of retail cannabis has been lifted in Kahnawake, Perron emphasized that this doesn’t mean that selling cannabis is now legal.
“It’s still illegal to possess for the purposes of selling. Personal possession is different, but it’s still illegal right now to possess for the purpose of retail sale, and to actually sell without a licence from the Cannabis Control Board,” she said.
“Although the moratorium has now been fully rescinded, the law and regulations are in place, and that replaced the moratorium. So if you’re not complying with those regulations, you’d be acting outside of the law, which means you’re acting without lawful authority to do so.”
Cannabis sales in Kahnawake has been a hot topic since it was put on the Council table in 2018. Though MCK has completed community consultations, many community members feel that cannabis should not be regulated by the MCK.
“We have the ability to develop and regulate our own cannabis industry without being under the authority of the federal government,” said community member Jeremiah Johnson, referencing how MCK is still bound by the federal Indian Act. “We can develop a law that is equal to or better than the current federal model, and implement it ourselves.”
The Cannabis Control Law requires certain elements of retail sale of cannabis to be deemed suitable by Health Canada. Johnson said that in his eyes, Health Canada is an arm of a foreign government, and requiring products in Kahnawake to be evaluated by them endangers the community’s rights and sovereignty.
“There is a better way, a way the community can all benefit from this industry, not just the lucky few,” he said. “We can produce our own product which meets or exceeds Health Canada regulations right here in Kahnawake.”
Perron acknowledged that the topic is controversial in Kahnawake.
“There are a number of members in our community with opposing views on all matters cannabis, including licensing and whether or not it should be regulated, and who should regulate,” so I anticipate there will be some displeasure with the way it’s proceeding,” she said. “I’m certain we’ll hear feedback negative and positive.”
Perron said community safety is the priority when proceeding with cannabis regulation.
“We do have to keep in mind, though, that the primary reason for the law and the regulations is to ensure the health and safety of our community members, so we know what’s in them, where they came from, and how to trace them back if there’s an issue with them,” she said. “We’re ensuring the safety of our youth by requiring identification at the door to enter the premises; the purpose is for health and safety.”
It’s also important to prevent any rise of organized crime related to cannabis dispensaries, Perron said. Kanesatake, where a large number of unregulated dispensaries operate, has sometimes been associated in the media with gang-related activities stemming from the cannabis industry, such as when an individual tied to organized crime was murdered outside the Green Room dispensary in 2021.
“Organized crime has a hold on the illicit cannabis industry, and that’s not something we want in our community. I think we can all agree on that,” Perron said. “Despite the opposing opinions and positions regarding the product and the regulation of it, I’m really confident this is the right direction that we’re taking.”
Community members can keep up to date with forthcoming news from the Cannabis Control Board at their official website, cannabisboard.org. The enactment of the regulations is also on the agenda for next week’s community meeting, which takes place on December 12 at 7 p.m. at the Golden Age Club.