First Nations leaders and illegal cannabis dealers could soon find themselves in open conflict in the Mohawk territory of Kanesatake in southeastern Quebec.
Serge Simon - Grand Chief of the Kanesatake Mohawk territory - is threatening to crack down on illicit cannabis sales by forming a Kanesatake police force to uproot illegal dispensaries in the community.
"I hate to do it that way, but what choice do I have?" Simon told the Montreal Gazette. "We're going to lose control of this thing if we don't nip it in the bud."
Simon added that it's an issue of public safety since many of the illegal operations have ties to organized crime.
“I know some band members on this territory still have connections to the Hells Angels and organized crime," he explained. "I don’t want them operating businesses here because I really don’t trust them.”
But establishing a police force in the area is controversial for a couple of reasons. In 2004, Chief James Gabriel tried to rid the territory of corrupt officials by rallying a group of peacekeepers. The attempt led to a violent standoff that culminated in the burning of Gabriel's home.
"I look at the mistakes James Gabriel made in the past, and I don’t want to repeat them," said Simon, who noted that a successful police force must uphold certain values.
"For a police force to be effective, it has to be independent and it has to be seen as independent, and that's what we want," he added. "Chief and council have no business running a police force."
However, Simon and the band council don't have total authority in Kanesatake. Mohawk warrior societies don't vote in band council elections. Instead, they appeal to other local political leaders called Clan Mothers. This effectively means there are rivaling governments within the community that may oppose Simon's proposition.
And while Simon admits there may be a place for medical marijuana in his community, his own struggles with addictions as a youth led him to caution.
"As a medicine, cannabis can be a very good thing, if we do it the right way," he said. "But speaking as a former addict, I worry about what such an influx of cannabis could do to our youth. I've been sober almost 25 years, but that’s how I started down the wrong path."
Indigenous control over cannabis legislation in their communities is likely to continue to be much discussed issue as Canada moves closer to legalizing marijuana on October 17.