First Nation in Ontario to lower the age of access to cannabis, allow the sale of edibles

| David Brown

The Nipissing First Nation in Ontario recently announced their intention to lower the age of access to cannabis on their land, as well as allow the sale of edibles beginning in May of this year.

The Council of the Nipissing First Nation recently announced the newly approved amendments to their own cannabis laws originally enacted July of 2019. The amendments came after a community feedback process to gauge community interest and concerns. That feedback process took place earlier this year and the new amendments will come into force on May 19th, 2020. 

The Cannabis Law, in accordance with section 35 of the Canadian Constitution, is part of the Nipissing First Nation Land Code, which permits the Chief and Council to make Land Laws “respecting the development, conservation, protection, management, use and possession of Nipissing First Nation Land”.

The original cannabis law had limited purchase and possession and use of cannabis to those over 21 years of age, despite Ontario’s own rules of 19 years of age for access. The new amendment brings the Nipissing First Nations rules in line with Ontario’s. 

Chief Scott McLeod told Anishinabek News earlier this year part of the motivation behind the change was that this would also allow retailers to hire people 19 and up who couldn’t have worked in a retail location under the old rules, as well as to help give retailers a better opportunity to compete with other Ontario retailers with a 19-and-up rule.  

“We realized…that there were some concerns of post-secondary students that would be looking for work opportunities. It might limit them from working in these stores.” 

“We don’t want to limit employment opportunities for post-secondary students. So we lowered the age of working in the stores to 19.” 

The section in the original cannabis regulations stated that a retailer could not sell edibles “that could be mistaken as not containing cannabis by children”. The new amendment removes this rule entirely. 

Other aspects of the original cannabis legislation that remains intact include strict guidelines for retailers and commercial cannabis growers on Nipissing First Nation. This includes rules that ensure retail staff are trained on compliance with federal, provincial and First Nation cannabis laws, prevents the promotion of products as having medicinal or indigenous spiritual or cultural attributes, and prevents retailers from selling cannabis other than from a producer authorized by a permit issued by the First Nation. 

“We’re extremely excited when that day comes that we can sell edibles to our consumers. A great deal of the population here asks for this. We’re finding that the age groups asking for edibles are 40 and over. They’re not interested in smoking and so they’re looking for an alternative.”

Similarly, it disallows anyone from cultivating cannabis for commercial purposes on the First Nation’s land other than those authorized by permit issued by Nipissing First Nation. The rules state that one can apply for such permits if they meet certain conditions including a requirement that the applicant is a member of the Nipissing First Nation, that they can pass a criminal record check, and they are in possession of a Nipissing First Nation business licence.

The First Nation currently has only one licensed cannabis retailer – Kana Leaf, who opened up for business in February of this year. The retailer currently lists an array of products from federally licensed cannabis producers, including dried cannabis, pre rolls, vape pens, oils and concentrates, seeds and accessories, but no edibles. Dried cannabis prices start as low as $21 for 3.5 grams. The retailer also lists delivery options on their website. 

“We’re extremely excited when that day comes that we can sell edibles to our consumers,” says Noreen Nichol, one of the owner’s of Kana Leaf. “A great deal of the population here asks for this. We’re finding that the age groups asking for edibles are 40 and over. They’re not interested in smoking and so they’re looking for an alternative.”

As one of the only legal cannabis retailers in the North Bay area, Nichol says she’s also happy to soon be allowed to provide legal cannabis to the same age-range as retailers in the rest of Ontario.

“It was disheartening to have to turn away people between the ages of 19 and 21. Who knows where they would have to get their cannabis then. That was a real concern for us. They’re coming to us for a safe product and we were turning them away, saying you can’t. So we’re also very excited we will be able to serve people 19 years and older soon.”

Nipissing, like other First Nations and Indigienous communities in Canada would also like more control over the licensing process, both for retail and well as production. 

In a meeting earlier this year, Chief McLeod said Nipissing’s hope is to work on getting those rules changed to provide them with more authority. 

“Rather than delegating the authority of licensing and regulation to First Nations, which would have been the right thing to do, they delegated to the province and now we are left trying to work with a lesser government to get our jurisdictional rights in place,” according to Anishinabek News. “It could have been easily dealt with at the federal level by delegating authority to First Nations…The federal government has agreements with us on lands management. We have the power to make our own laws but when it comes to us actually putting things in practice, they sidestepped us and sent it to the province.”

Earlier this year, one prospective cannabis producer on Nipissing First Nation land, Golden Harvest Organics, announced that they had broken ground on their new 30,000ft2 facility owned by Nipissing members Payette-Chevrier and her husband Doug Chevrier, who are the sole proprietors.

Their business licence application was approved by a majority of Nipissing First Nation council in early November. They will now begin to make their way into the federal licensing process and say they hope to be producing cannabis in 2021.

Featured image via Alexander McKenna