Few indigenous people in Canada are involved in the country's medical marijuana industry, but one man hopes to change that in the near future. Phil Fontaine - former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations - is now heading up Indigenous Roots, a new cannabis company that will specialize in providing legal medical marijuana and jobs in the cannabis industry to First Nations communities.

Fontaine says that the new business venture is about helping Canada's indigenous peoples gain access to high-quality cannabis products.

"I've been interested in this for some time," Fontaine told reporters yesterday. "We know this is an underserved population. Indian people deserve to have access to quality products."

He added that the project is also about helping First Nations economies by providing jobs and special training to indigenous people.

“It’s about revitalization of First Nations economies, it’s about wealth creation, it’s about providing a service to an underserved client group, it’s about jobs, training and its about capacity building. And I think there are real opportunities here for the indigenous community.”

To do that, Indigenous Roots is partnering with Cronos Group (formerly PharmaCan) - a medical marijuana company with investments in five licensed cannabis producers in Ontario and British Columbia. The partnership allows Indigenous Roots to operate using facilities that have already been approved by Health Canada. That means Fontaine can hit the ground running instead of waiting for the government to approve his license application.

Indigenous Roots will build its flagship facility on a lot owned by one of Cronos Group's licensed producers in B.C. Construction will begin next spring, when IR will also begin selling cannabis using Cronos inventory. But IR also plans to open licensed growing facilities on reserves in the future. 

The announcement is somewhat controversial due to the epidemic of substance abuse on Canadian reserves. According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA), drug abuse is one of the top challenges faced by leaders on Canadian reserves - especially in remote northern regions of the country.

But Mike Gorgenstein - CEO of Cronos Group - says that cannabis could help indigenous people avoid using (and abusing) more harmful substances. 

"The way we look at this is that it can really be an effective replacement for harmful substances (such as opiates)," Gorenstein told The Winnipeg Free Press. "I don't view it as another harmful substance. I view it as better and healthier."

And recent scientific studies back him up. “Research suggests that people may be using cannabis as an exit drug to reduce use of substances that are potentially more harmful, such as opioid pain medication,” according to Dr. Zach Walsh, a cannabis researcher University of British Columbia.

So Indigenous Roots could help reserves become healthier as well as wealthier communities. 

h/t The Winnipeg Free Press, Financial Post.

Banner image: Ontario Chamber of Commerce / Flickr.com