News Local

Marijuana dispensary operates in grey area

By PETE FISHER, Northumberland Today

ALDERVILLE - There are different opinions on whether a marijuana dispensary located on Alderville First Nation is legal.

The Medicine Wheel Natural Healing - Indigenous Healing Through Medicinal Cannabis is located on County Road 45 in Alderville, north of Cobourg.

It had a "soft" opening in June and has been doing a brisk business since then.

Owner Rob Stevenson, who lives on Alderville First Nation and belongs to the Bear Clan, said in a interview on the business's Facebook page that it is a holistic healing centre and "creating a economic boom for the community," and also helping people "rise up from poverty."

Stevenson describes himself in the interview as having a lot of morals, values and ethics.

Stevenson said the Medicine Wheel Natural Healing had a "really good acknowledgement from chief and council. They are very supportive of it."

But when contacted by Northumberland Today, Alderville First Nation Chief James Marsden said he couldn't comment on the matter because he is in conflict, as Stevenson is his nephew.

Stevenson said by way of video on the businesses site when a new customer comes in to the store they will go to a "consultation counter" where they fill out a form about ailments.

"We get a lot of information from them," he said. "They get a membership card and everything they purchase goes under their file. "Importance of that is we can monitor how the medications are working for our customers - maybe it's to strong, not strong enough."

Reached by phone, Stevenson said "It's legal. We are on sovereign territory. So the provincial and federal government can't dictate what we do."

Stevenson said it's similar to the tobacco laws. "We're a sovereign nation, so it depends what each community wants to do."

Stevenson said a different dispensary located on Alderville First Nation was raided by OPP last year and the owner was charged.

Even though it was on a reservation, Stevenson said the owner was not Indige and that's why he was charged.

"That's why all my staff are First Nation," he said.

Stevenson said he spoke with Northumberland OPP Insp. Lisa Darling who said the business was fine, but if he was aware any type of criminal element coming in to notify police immediately and police also wanted his security system monitored. Darling didn't respond to requests for comment.

One item Stevenson does add is if people do buy it on the reserve, if they go off, "they could be prosecuted. If they got caught and don't have a prescription, then absolutely they could get in trouble for that."

Staff Sgt. Carolle Dionne, an Ontario Provincial Police media relations coordinator, said if a First Nation community has its own policing service, that service would enforce the laws around medical marijuana dispensaries.

Since there is no First Nation community police in Alderville, it would be up to the Ontario Provincial Police to enforce, she said.

The federal government is proposing to make marijuana legal with strict regulations by July 1, 2018, but until that time, even if a marijuana dispensary is on a reservation, they are still illegal, states the OPP.

"The concern remains with these dispensaries, they are not authorized by the government licensing bodies to dispense marijuana," Dionne said. "Because they are not licensed, they are not authorized. Even today, right now their legal standing and expectation is we're going to enforce the law because it is considered sort of trafficking of illegal products. It's an illegal activity - these dispensaries. Our stance is, if it's illegal we will enforce the law until told otherwise."

Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day, who represents 133 chiefs across Ontario, said marijuana dispensaries on First Nations land is inevitable.

Day said he had been to dispensaries and was "quite impressed by the way some of these dispensaries have started to create a level of excellence in their own facilities.

"If we know dispensaries and distribution and economy is going to be created in the mainstream, why not First Nation?"

But, Day added, "everything right now is illegal."

Day said at this stage, with the new laws taking effect in the near future, there is very little enforcement.

"That moratorium on enforcement seems pretty consistent across the board," he said. "This is I believe why the federal government is moving very quickly to put legislation in place."

Day said although marijuana isn't part of the Indigenous medicine wheel, he explains, "we know that marijuana or the cannabis plant has been part of this continent.

"What our people will tell you is whatever grows on this land, will be part of that relationship that we have and we have every right to co-exist and responsibility to co-exist with that on our land and in our territories."

Day said it's a very important discussion and will be a debate.

"But the direction of medical cannabis, recreational cannabis - it's going to happen and our people will certainly secure our rightful place using it as a formal medicine and using as their economic right."

Some Indigenous communities have made it clear they do not want dispensaries on their land and that is their wish, and right, he said.

"The difference between colonial governments and First Nation governments, despite the fact the Indian Act is there and there is supposed assumed authority the Federal Government has over First Nation people, it simply isn't the case within our communities."

It's a complex question for each community to discuss and also to decide, he said.

Day said just days ago he secured a mandate from the Assembly of First Nations executive and he will be heading up a national working group on cannabis with the Regional Chief in Quebec.

They will be looking at the cannabis legislation on four perspectives, health, social, economic and jurisdictional.

"Our work over the next several months will be to make sure our communities are getting the proper information that we coordinate discussions with various parts of government and that our regions (Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan) have the ability a bit more so they are engagement ready and how provincial jurisdiction will apply and how provinces and territories are going to respond to the Cannabis Act."

"We're working hard to make sure our First Nation are going to be intelligently response to C-45 and 46 and we need to make sure our First Nations are going to be safe, secure and if we can prosper they can do that as well."

Pfisher@postmedia.com

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