In July 2018, two bills dealing with the legalization of Cannabis (Acts C-45 & C-46) will become Canadian law, significantly changing the social and economic environment within the country. A report tabled in November 2016 described Canada’s priorities on cannabis to be: keeping cannabis out of the hands of children and youth, and preventing organized crime from profiting from cannabis sales, while also maintaining public health and safety, fairness, collaboration and a commitment to evidence-informed policy.
Between now and the July 2018 deadline, the only opportunity for the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) to obtain direction from Chiefs on how to define and launch our own cannabis-specific goals, policy and strategy is the December Special Chiefs Assembly.
In September 2017, the Executive Committee passed a motion that a National Working Group on Cannabis be created that would assist First Nations in all regions to be engagement-ready and in a better position to assert their rights, title and interests when the new cannabis legislation comes into effect. Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day and Quebec-Labrador Regional Chief Ghislain Picard will lead the file.
A Terms of Reference for the National Working Group on Cannabis has been developed and a proposal to fund the National Working Group is being drafted. The proposed approach is to:
- Meet with various federal departments and agencies on the legislation, and
- Hold bi-lateral discussions so that First Nation input is heard at all levels.
As with all other federal initiatives, it is important that First Nations have the relevant information to consider the impacts and how it relates to their level of readiness for change. At this point, there is not enough information distributed to First Nations to facilitate this readiness, including any positive and negative impacts. Output of information to First Nations regarding cannabis discussions and development is critical to ensure First Nations are prepared.
Issues that must be considered to prepare for the change include the following:
- Public health – How will new health implications be addressed? Will solutions be designed and carried out in partnership with First Nations? What standards, mental health services and addictions care will be put in place to deal with cannabis on–reserve and off-reserve?
- Justice – How will the changes impact criminal law, policing and those already in institutions?
- Government system – How will licencing be determined? How will First Nation governments be included?
- Education and public awareness – Will there be programs to speak to youth and adults about the impacts of cannabis use? Will there be properly-resourced programs to deal with the impacts?
- Potential economic opportunities – Will First Nation business be granted licenses to manufacture and distribute cannabis products (consistent with AFN resolution 123/2016)?
- Revenues – how will revenues from cannabis sales be directed? What portion of the funds will go back into public awareness and anti-addiction programs?
- Impaired driving and workplace safety concerns – will there be supports in place to address these concerns over public safety on the roads and in our workplaces?
- Jurisdictional – how will the changes impact Indigenous rights and lands? How will First Nations exert their rights and law in relation to these new changes?
- Social – What are the impacts to First Nations social systems? How will community cultural perspectives and values be impacted by this legislation?
- And other important factors for review, such as the application of medical cannabis in relieving disability related conditions.
The National Working Group on Cannabis will work to ensure that First Nations have the information they need to be prepared for this new legislation, as well as providing information that considers a broad set of matters that touch on everything from youth issues to transportation concerns to rights and title to economic development.
We will provide more information in the near future.