Canada Moves Towards Legalization: Medicinal Cannabis and Inherent Rights

Brian Wright-McLeod, 2018
- News From Indian Country -
As legalization of cannabis becomes a reality in Canada, first nations entrepreneurs are poised to rake in the benefits. As some move to industrialize operations on their home reserves, another aspect of the issue emerges.

Only recently has the long-known knowledge of the medicinal benefits of cannabis been revealed amid a wave of legitimized financial benefits.

After generational suppression campaigns marshaled by the medical industry, government and corporations, the censorship is beginning to recede.

Indigenous people throughout much of the western hemisphere, have enjoyed a long and intimate association with the plant for both medical and practical purposes.

The history of cannabis in the western hemisphere prior to colonial contact is a scant and ignored history from South America to the north, as far as southern region of the eastern Canadian province of Ontario.

Specifically, the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville, Ontario, is one area of long historical and cultural relationship that has since become a political hot spot in both non-indigenous legal and political areas and within the Mohawk community itself.

Tim Barnhart CEO of Legacy 420, located on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, near Belleville, Ontario, has made a stand steeped in culture and based on Canadian law.

More than an entrepreneur, Barnhart’s ambitions are derived from generations of historic struggle. That experience alone, places him front-and-centre in a possible maelstrom of legalities amid the international recognition of indigenous sovereignty.

420 is located on the Tyeninaga Mohawk Territory in Ontario

Cannabis is politically tied to Native communities as he points out. “Locally, cannabis and Native politics are very connected. There are different camps: pro and con. The No Camp is in the minority, across all spectrums. The southern Native communities are willing to move on legalization. There’s a lot of political push as well for taking advantage of cannabis economically, regulating ourselves and moving forward.”

But the playing field is populated by formidable interests. “There is a third camp forming too: that’s the push from corporations. For example, former Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine has a corporation with a non-Aboriginal partnership. They can enter a first nations community and put up a licensed producer and start to grow. The problem is that the profits go the corporation while the band council receives very little. And that money is subject to taxation.” Barnhart points out, “There is no recognition of sovereignty under a corporate seal. Which is why we would never consider that option. You lose your sovereignty. “

The plot thickens with various tiers of political quagmires. “There’s the local political connection, then there’s the federal politicians who really don’t want to see us doing this at all. There’s been no consultation on Bill C-45 and C-46. The bills have already been passed by the House. They’ve been placating us – putting us off. We’ve been asking for two years now to be given a moratorium on Native people, and we’ve organized ourselves in the cannabis industry under the National Indigenous Medical Cannabis Association. But the feds don’t seem to want to talk to us.”

The next step, Barnhart plans to bring the executive board of the National Indigenous Medical Cannabis Association to meet with Health Canada in Ottawa.

“NIMCA was incorporated in April 2017,” he says. “We’ve seen what’s been happening in the political and criminal fronts in this industry. The feds have been trying to connect organized crime to first nations communities,” he says. “They’re trying to criminalize a sovereign product. We decided to form0NIMCA and design our own regulations and standards so we can license ourselves.

This is a for-first-nations-by-first-nations initiative, and as long as we follow the protocol that the federal government has laid out, and actually exceed those regulations. I don’t see why we can’t have a parallel system. “

With respect to other sovereign products like tobacco on reserves, and how it relates to taxation, legalities and sovereignty, Barnhat observes, “I have a tobacco shop called Legacy Cigars, and we’ve been singled out by the province to be the largest retailer in Ontario. What the government chose to do was to go to the manufacturers and place quotas on us. They’re trying to control our inherent right by imposing these quotas on us.”

One aspect of the Legacy 420 mission is to educate while instilling cultural awareness about cannabis. Attempting to achieve this end has been accomplished through public interaction that has included outdoor music concerts and rhetoric. In the days of legalization, the competition for dollars maximizes any and all attempts to gain and hold faithful customers.


"Planting the seeds to benefit the seven generations to come."

“The cannabis is right here,” Barnhart says. “People have to realize that this plant has been here a long, long time. It’s a stolen medicine, no different than the other thousands of stolen medicines from indigenous people. So, it’s nothing new, they use the same methods to steal this plant like they have all the others. Since we possess this inherent right, we’re going to utilize it as an economic driver. And we built this using the medical model.”

“This is all about inherent right,” Barnhart says. “One day soon, there won’t be such a thing as “fudiciary responsibility” on the part of the federal government with respect to status Indians under the Indian Act. And once those generations die off, it won’t be any more. There has to be a replacement income and I don’t hear any of our leaders talking about this. The feds are fully aware of what’s going on, they’ve written papers on it. And for us, it’s time to wake up and make a stand.”

Barnhart sees an obvious solution. “For Native people, the focus should be on cannabis,” he says. “Its labour intensive, everybody is paid well and there’s no tax – it’s very lucrative, and with the government controlling the price, it works in our favor. They established a retail price of $10 a gram. NIMCA is trying to establish that as a standard price. We’ve been selling at that price, and lower, for a few years now. But if the government is guaranteeing the price, then I think it can drive Native economies.”

Constitutionality, inherent rights, natural law, the treaties, the Indian Act, and UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, implemented March 2011) represent the legal arsenal that may establish rights on Indian lands as they relate to cannabis.

“For first nations, it’s an inherent right and we used it before pre-contact,” Barnhart says. “We’re going to create an economy under UNDRIP and move that forward. Hopefully legal issues will be addressed through UNDRIP and not the police. We have a right to our own land and flora, as outlined in the UNDRIP agreement. I think first nations have a pretty bright future depending on band councils, who are federally sanctioned and controlled. They are elected by the people, but their mandate is that of the federal government. They won’t take donations from us because they might lose their transfer payments from the federal government. But the councils are becoming less fearful. I’ve had representatives from all over Ontario come to visit here and wanting to get involved. "

“It think there’s a bright future for us and we have every right to do this.”

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