Indigenous Leaders Say Marijuana Could Be the Economic Driver First Nations Communities are Looking For

Indigenous leaders in Canada are looking to the country's legalized cannabis market as a means to improve their economic footing. But before that can happen, they must overcome challenges stemming from the federal government's failure to include them in the leadup to legalization.

Roland Bellerose—founder and CEO of Cannabis and Hemp Indigenous Consortium Canada—sees the legal cannabis industry as a real boon for struggling Indigenous communities in Canada. His consortium is dedicated to helping Indigenous businesspeople break in to the new industry as a way not only to benefit financially, but also to help Indigenous peoples reconnect with their traditional cultures.

"This has generations of economic opportunity written all over it, because it returns us to much of our traditional medicines, our traditional plants, plant cultures, [being] stewards of the land, our farming communities," Bellerose told CBC.

While a number of Indigenous entrepreneurs have already started working to enter the market, navigating the regulations isn't always easy, says Francine Whiteduck. Whiteduck runs a firm that consults with Indigenous governments and communities to help them establish profitable cannabis businesses in their area. She says the best thing communities can do is share information and help push each other to success.

"Alderville First Nation has a very good model that they're willing to share with communities. Kahnawake is working on their own framework," Whiteduck said. "There are other communities out west building a framework they're going to work in. And they're saying, 'We're going to harmonize that.'"

However, Bellerose says that the lack of consultation between the federal government and Indigenous leaders prior to the implementation of cannabis legalization means there is resentment towards the new industry from some individuals. Many communities are upset that they were left out of the conversation surrounding how legalization was rolled out, and feel they now need to work harder to make the industry right for them.

"They've left us in a position of saying, 'you didn't consult with us. You didn't include us. And now you've thrown these regulations at everybody, and now you've left the problem for us to solve,'" said Bellerose.

But as Whiteduck said, many of the young people who attended the conference hosted by the consortium last week were excited about the possibilities offered by the new industry. And many of them were optimistic that bringing cannabis and hemp jobs to their community could lead to strong economic growth.

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It costs an average of $4,000 for police to bring someone up on cannabis changes - but it could run the defendant as much as $20,000 to fight the case. It's no secret that a lot of taxpayer money is wasted each year on enforcing unjust marijuana laws. By some estimates, as much as $3.6 billion is spent every year arresting some 820,000 Americans on cannabis-related charges.

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