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This October, Canada will become the second nation in the world, after Uruguay, to formally legalise recreational cannabis. It will also be the first G7 and G20 nation to do so – in violation of United Nations declarations, treaties and conventions.

But as Canada prepares to roll out its legal marijuana legislation this summer, indigenous communities are concerned about how much autonomy they will have over the process and the way it affects their people. 

In order to pass the legislation, the Government required the support of the Senate’s Aboriginal Peoples’ Committee. To secure their vote, ministers promised extra funding for indigenous mental health and addiction services, as well as assistance for indigenous businesses to navigate the licensing process. The Government has pledged ongoing consultation with First Nations people.

However, much like in the major metropolitan areas of Canada, illegal marijuana dispensaries have already been operating in indigenous communities for some time. Police have begun carrying out raids, in an attempt to shut down independently-owned stores and make way for government-run marijuana dispensaries.

While police technically have the authority to close down these stores, doing so en-masse would ignite a contentious national debate about whether police have the right to interfere with the communities’ autonomy. Indigenous leaders are adamant that they should have exclusive control over any retail marijuana stores that operate on their land.

Despite the apprehension, some communities are welcoming the change, and expect legalisation to create jobs and revenue. Like Hikurangi Enterprises in New Zealand, the Oneida Nation has begun positioning itself to enter the legal cultivation market, and has already applied for licenses from the federal government.

The same challenges are starting to emerge in Aotearoa, even before any medicinal cannabis law change is enacted. This story on Hururaki Enterprises, which will feature in our next Matters of Substance magazine, highlights some of the challenges for Māori. Te Tiriti o Waitangi guarantees legal equality between Māori and other citizens of Aotearoa, which means ensuring Māori communities share the financial benefits of a regulated cannabis market.

Māori need to think though and debate these implications carefully, before it’s too late. Change is in the wind and proposed amendments to the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Act have already seen individuals and businesses positioning themselves in the NZ market.  The Drug Foundation feels strongly that Māori need a voice on these issues.

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