Phil Fontaine, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations has hired lobby firm Bluesky Strategy Group through the medical marijuana company Indigenous Roots in an attempt to convince the federal government to include cannabis in the Non-Insured Heath Benefits (NIHB) program run by the Indigenous Services department.

Susan Smith, one of Bluesky’s owners, told the Globe and Mail that the premise behind their advocacy is to afford residential school survivors and their families the right to combat symptoms of PTSD with medical marijuana. She pointed out that this is something that is already being covered by Veterans Affairs.

She also stated her belief that a shift in focus towards medical marijuana will have a great impact on mitigating the effects of the opioid crisis in the community.

This is not the first effort made on behalf of representatives from the Assembly of First Nations to include medical cannabis in a federal drug plan. Last year, the AFN endorsed a motion by the Sipekne’katik First Nation in Nova Scotia directing the AFN to negotiate with the federal government to ensure reasonable access to the drug.

The biggest roadblock, according to the Indigenous Services department, is that to be included on the NIHB Program Drug Benefit List, every drug must meet four criteria: it has to be approved by Health Canada under Food and Drug Regulation, have a notice of compliance and a drug identification number (DIN), prescribed by a licensed practitioner and dispensed by a pharmacist.

As medical marijuana currently does not the last three of those standards, it will be difficult to include cannabis in any federal drug program.

With the cost of medical marijuana being about $7 a gram, according to the article, the drafters of the motion warned that the failure to include cannabis in their benefits program could result in indigenous patients being priced out of effective cannabis therapies.