The Saskatchewan First Nation which challenged government jurisdiction to open a casino is prepared for another court battle over the right to sell pot when it is legalized across Canada.
White Bear Chief Nathan Pasap said there has been a lot of interest from band members looking at legal marijuana as a business opportunity. One councillor has taken a lead role on researching the laws, zoning and the market for current medicinal distributors for the retail side of both medicinal and recreational pot since last spring.
“We’re not only interested in retail, we may be looking at the production part of it as well too,” he said.
Earlier in January, the Saskatchewan Government announced a list of 40 communities with populations over 2,500 eligible to apply for permits for private retail stores this year. White Bear First Nation, north of Carlyle, was left off the list.
Pasap was disappointed with, what he describes, as a lack of consultation by the provincial government with First Nations who could be missing out on a chance to create employment.
“They don’t even have the opportunity to look at creating some economic development and being able to deal with some of the socioeconomic issues that many First Nations but are looking at opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty and despair,” Pasap said.
In the initial announcement on pot retailers, the government said it will assess the first set of retailers for 12 to 18 months after legalization and may decide to expand the list of eligible communities.
Pasap said he wants to request a meeting with the provincial government to revisit the decision on the rollout of pot permits in Saskatchewan. If this doesn’t get results, Pasap said White Bear is prepared to go to court to challenge the jurisdiction of the province over the sale of legal marijuana on reserves.
Pasap noted he would prefer to work collaboratively with the province and there is time to go back to the table.
“But if that doesn’t help us then it’s forced our hand to really challenge this,” he said.
He points to White Bear’s casino as a parallel example for both the jurisdictional challenge and the potential economic benefits.
“Historically, White Bear challenged the jurisdiction to have gaming and here we are, 20 plus years later, and we have (Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority) which is owned collectively by the 74 bands and it has given back millions to First Nations and the rest of Saskatchewan and created a tremendous amount of jobs,” Pasap commented.
The chief went on to say this issue is about more than money.
“I would say there is an issue of jurisdiction fundamentally and then also the jobs – to be able to create some jobs and create economic opportunity. It’s not only just about the money, it’s about taking control of one’s destiny as a First Nation,” Pasap commented.
Pasap also wants to see proactive responsible leadership from all levels of government surrounding the bylaws around legal marijuana. He personally agrees with a minimum legal age of 21 and would like to see some of the revenue from pot sales directed towards dealing with addictions.