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Saskatchewan Bill Would OK Cannabis Licenses for First Nations

The provincial government of Saskatchewan, Canada announced on Tuesday that it has introduced legislation designed to give the province’s First Nations regulatory authority over cannabis operations in the areas they govern. The Summary Offenses procedure Amendment Act (SOPA of 2022) is the first bill. It provides a legal structure that First Nations communities will use to enforce and interpret laws on reserves lands. The provincial framework allows First Nations to license, regulate, and sell cannabis.

“The Government of Saskatchewan is proud to take this important step as part of our ongoing work with the Muskoday and Whitecap Dakota First Nations,” Justice Minister and Attorney General Bronwyn Eyre said in a statement from the provincial government. “These amendments will allow these and other First Nations communities in the future to use the more simplified summary offenses procedure, instead of the long-form process under the federal Criminal Code, to issue tickets and fines such as those issued for traffic violations and other provincial offenses.”

The Cannabis Control (Saskatchewan Amendment Act of 2022), is the second bill. This legislation establishes the provincial legal framework that allows First Nations to regulate and license the retail and distribution of cannabis on First Nation reserve land. The legislation will make First Nations subject to federal and provincial legislation in order to create a local authority that can manage cannabis operations. If the regulations are followed, retailers will be permitted to order from the federally-regulated producers of cannabis.

Legislation Follows Memo Of Understanding

The new legislative amendments follow a Memorandum of Understanding that was signed by the Government of Saskatchewan, the Muskoday First Nation, and the Whitecap Dakota First Nation in October 2019 to address longstanding issues concerning sovereignty and the enforcement of First Nations’ laws.

“First Nations assert their jurisdiction and maintain community safety by creating laws under the Indian Act, land codes, and other federal legislation but there have been difficulties in enforcing these laws in the courts,” said Chief Darcy Bear of Whitecap Dakota First Nation. “Through our work with the provincial government, the amendments to SOPA will give us access to prosecution and enforcement tools that will give force to our laws in areas such as environmental protection and community safety; and strengthen the place of our laws alongside federal and provincial law.”

Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority administers and enforces the cannabis regulations. Lori Carr is the Minister in charge of the SLGA. She stated that First Nations should have autonomy when it comes to cannabis regulation administration and enforcement on reserves lands.

“Our government supports First Nations exercising their authority over on-reserve distribution and retailing of cannabis through a legal framework with SLGA,” said Carr. “This change further fosters reconciliation by ensuring First Nation-owned businesses are able to fully participate in the economic opportunities presented by the retail cannabis industry.”

“One of the biggest benefits that they’ll have is they’ll be able to access the product from the Canadian government, so they’ll be able to ensure the product they’re getting is safe for their consumers,” Carr added.

Since 2019, the Zagime Anishinabeck First Nation runs a marijuana dispensary near Regina, Saskatchewan. The enterprise is managed by its own policies and regulatory regulations. Chief Lynn Acoose explained that, because First Nations are autonomous communities, no new legislation is necessary. 

“We have our own laws and bylaws,” Acoose told reporters on Tuesday, adding, “So far, the framework we’ve put in place has served us well.”

With the First Nation’s regulations already in place, Acoose said that the Zagime Anishinabeck does not support regulations that would give Saskatchewan officials authority over First Nation cannabis enterprises.

“We would not be interested in entering into any kind of agreement with the province with respect to enforcing any kind of provincial statutes on reserve,” said Acoose, adding that complying with federal laws is a different matter.