Buying legal weed in Canada's two most populous provinces is still no easy feat—so First Nations dispensaries are stepping in to fill the gap.
In Quebec, provincially owned cannabis stores are only open four days a week while distributors are still struggling with supply shortages. For customers, this means finding a convenient time to go to one of the Société Québécoise du Cannabis (SQDC) isn't always easy. And when they do get there, often the products they want are out-of-stock. And things aren't likely to change there any time soon.
"Supply is still a challenge," SQDC spokesperson Fabrice Giguère told Montreal Gazette. "We'll only be able to open seven days a week when our supply can justify that. Right now it can't."
In response, numerous First Nations operated shops have been cropping up on reserves around the province. Three dispensaries are now open in Kanesatake, west of Montreal, as well as shops in Kahnawake and Kitigan Zibi a little further outside the city.
A number of First Nations run pot shops are also flourishing in Ontario. Dozens can be found in the Mohawk community of Tyendinaga, which serves locals as well as out-of-province customers.
"We do have some customers from Quebec who keep coming back because they weren't able to get what they were looking for at the (SQDC)," said Jordan Brant, who works at the Tyendinaga-based dispensary Legacy 420.
Brent says most people frequenting the shops know they are technically not legal (though some First Nations have claimed that allowing cannabis sales on their land is well within their sovereign rights). Nevertheless, business is steady.
"People know that the outfits on the [Mohawk] reservation aren't legal in the eyes of Canada, but they don't care," Brant said. "Pricing, lack of taxes, no waiting times are some of the advantages we have."
"There's a certain atmosphere, some information and expertise that we provide that I don't think you get in the [regulated market]."
People working with these dispensaries say most of the product is sourced from Indigenous growers on Canada's West Coast, so securing enough supply to meet demand has not been an issue. And to keep the industry respectable, many shops follow similar protocols to legal distributors - including quality-control procedures and minimum-age requirements for purchases.
However, not all Indigenous leaders are happy about this new windfall for First Nations communities. Mohawk elder Kenneth Deer of Kahnawake has denounced the sale of cannabis in his community, stating that the substance has no place in their traditions. However, until the rest of Canada figures out the supply shortage, we should expect these First Nation's cannabis shops to continue seeing a steady stream of customers from both on and off reserves.