First Nations look to grow marijuana industry for economic highs

Indigenous Roots growing facility in the works, to be built in Armstrong

Canada’s marijuana industry is expanding rapidly and some First Nations are looking to cash in on the emerging economic opportunities.

Phil Fontaine, an Indigenous politician turned marijuana executive, has spent the last year travelling the country and talking to First Nations about jobs, wealth and training opportunities the burgeoning marijuana business could bring.

“Everywhere we’ve been, it’s been the same reaction, interest, excitement. First Nations are speaking about possibilities and potential. So it’s been very encouraging,” said the former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

Marijuana businesses represent “tremendous potential” for First Nations, partially because communities are able to get in on the ground floor, instead of fighting to catch up years later as has traditionally been the case, Fontaine said.

“This is a unique opportunity. This sector is different than any other the Indigenous community has experienced. Everyone is starting off at the same point,” he said in a telephone interview.

Fontaine is the CEO of Indigenous Roots, a medical marijuana company operated by and for First Nations across Canada.

The company is a joint venture with Cronos Group, a medial-marijuana grower licensed by Health Canada. Once Indigenous Roots is operating, its profits will be split evenly between partner First Nations and Cronos.

Though recreational marijuana is set to become legal this summer, Indigenous Roots will focus on supplying prescription pot to First Nations communities, which Fontaine said have traditionally had lower access to the drug.

“We want to make sure that this particular service is made available to our communities in every part of the country,” he said.

Plans are in the works to build an Indigenous Roots growing facility next to an existing Cronos facility in Armstrong, B.C., with the aim of serving patients by the end of 2018, Cronos CEO Mike Gorenstein said in an interview.

Current Cronos workers will train First Nations employees to run the Indigenous Roots operation, he said.

“Long term and medium term, this is meant to be an Indigenous-operated company,” Gorenstein said. “Our commitment is to make sure that any knowledge that we have or we continue to gain, that we’re sharing and we’re always there to support.”

The new facility will create between 30 and 50 jobs, plus other opportunities in marketing, sales and accounting, Gorenstein said. Future operations will likely be even bigger, he added.

A cannabis company in northern Ontario has also teamed up with local Indigenous communities.

Forty-nine First Nations have invested in 48North Cannabis, representing about 20 per cent of the company’s current shareholder base, said CEO Alison Gordon.

48North also has community benefit agreements with two Indigenous communities near its operations in Kirkland Lake, Ont. The company provides preferential hiring, and funding for drug and alcohol education, Gordon said.

The company is waiting final approval from Health Canada before sending medical marijuana to market, and is eyeing the recreational market, Gordon said.

First Nations will help direct the company’s growth, she added.

“It’s just part of our DNA. I mean, we want to work with our First Nations partners to figure out how to create products and brands that would be important to their communities, to help educate their communities.”

Other communities in B.C. believe cannabis could be a boon and are asking the provincial government to help ensure they get a piece of the emerging market.

In recent submissions to the government’s consultation on cannabis regulations, the Lake Cowichan and Ucluelet First Nations urged the province to implement a rule that requires a certain percentage of marijuana products be grown by Indigenous cultivators.

“It is obvious that there is potential for cannabis to become an economic foundation for some First Nations communities,” says the submission from the Ucluelet First Nation. “With proper consultation about regulation, this potential could be celebrated and fostered.”

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Becoming a Big Sister with BBBS Quesnel

An Observer reporter writes about her experience becoming a Big Sister through BBBS Quesnel

First Nations take steps to blockade moose hunt

Members of the Tsilhqot’in Nation are making good on their promise

Todd Doherty was recognized today for his life-saving actions during a flight home

Todd Doherty, Member of Parliament for Cariboo-Prince George, was recognized today for… Continue reading

Convicted animal abuser Catherine Adams faces breach of probation charge in Quesnel

Adams is scheduled to consult counsel in Quesnel Oct. 9, after breaching ban from owning animals

VIDEO: Messages of hope, encouragement line bars of B.C. bridge

WARNING: This story contains references to suicide and may not be appropriate for all audiences.

VIDEO: B.C. deer struggles with life-preserver caught in antlers

Campbell River resident captures entangled deer on camera

Scheer pushes Trudeau to re-start Energy East pipeline talks

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer questioned the Prime Minister over Trans Mountain project

Mistaken identity: Missing dog claimed in Moose Jaw belongs to another family

Brennen Duncan was reunited with a white Kuvasz that was found in Saskatchewan

Abandoned kitten safe and sound thanks to B.C. homeless man

‘Jay’ found little black-and-white kitten in a carrier next to a dumpster by a Chilliwack pet store

Police chief defends controversial marijuana seizure

Advocates said cannabis was part of an opioid-substitution program in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

Trans Mountain completes Burrard Inlet spill exercise

Training required, some work continues on pipeline expansion

Supporters of B.C. man accused of murdering Belgian tourist pack courtoom

Family and friends of Sean McKenzie, 27, filled the gallery for brief court appearance in Chilliwack

Pot, cash, mansions: Judge divvies up illegal estate of divorcing B.C. couple

The Smiths ran a multi-million marijuana operation that spanned three counties

Most Read