Manitoba suspends licence of First Nation retailer after community found to also be allowing illicit sales

| Staff

Earlier this week, Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries temporarily suspended its retailer agreement with a retail store on Long Plain First Nation’s urban reserve in Winnipeg, due to illicit sales in the community from an unlicensed Indigenous Bloom store.

The previously-licensed store was a Meta Cannabis Supply Co store located at 420 Madison Street. The Winnipeg Free Press first reported the connection to unlicensed First Nations retailer Indigenous Bloom. The Meta Cannabis location was the first First Nations affiliated retailer licensed in Manitoba in 2018.

According to a press release, this resulted in an immediate suspension of the store’s licence by the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba (LGCA). The store cannot sell cannabis until these suspensions are lifted.

Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries says the Long Plain First Nation, which is the majority owner of NAC Long Plain Limited partnership, sanctioned and continues to participate in the sale of unregulated cannabis from an unlicensed store on the First Nation’s Keeshkeemaquah reserve.

Indigenous Bloom locations in BC recently began carrying products from a federally-licensed cannabis producer earlier this month. The move comes as more First Nations communities in Canada seek to assert what many say are their jurisdictional authorities to manage cannabis production and sales in their community outside of federal and provincial regulations.

Omar Khan, Senior Vice President of Corporate and Public Affairs High Tide Inc., the company that owns META, says they have no connection to the unlicensed retailer.

“Earlier this week we were informed that our licence in Madison, Manitoba which is associated with a limited partnership with Long Plains First Nation has been suspended due to allegations of regulatory non-compliance by unrelated business interests of the majority partner (Long Plains First Nation),” Khan wrote to StratCann in an email.

“We have no relationship with these outside business interests and all of our stores, including the Madison location, operate in full compliance with all cannabis laws and regulations. In fact, the LGCA has confirmed that this license is only being temporarily suspended as a result of unrelated activities by the majority partner and that this particular store is in full compliance. We take compliance very seriously and would never do anything to jeopardize our stores or relationships with regulators. We hold all partners to the same standards as ourselves and, as such, will be taking necessary actions related to the partnership with Long Plains First Nation moving forward.”

The store products they are selling, says the ML&L, were manufactured in a facility without a federal production licence, which raises significant public safety concerns. Multiple requests to Long Plain First Nation to cease this illegal activity went unanswered.

“Public safety has been our primary concern since the legalization of cannabis was announced,” said LGCA CEO Kristianne Dechant. “Manitoba’s strict licensing framework for cannabis stores is designed to ensure that adults who choose to use cannabis have access to safe products from regulated retailers.”

Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries CEO Manny Atwal added, “Protecting the interests of licensed cannabis entrepreneurs and the integrity of the supply chain are paramount to Manitoba’s legal cannabis framework. More than 80 licensed cannabis stores are open for business in Manitoba, including stores located on and run by First Nations. Ignoring unlicensed operators selling unlicensed products jeopardizes licensed stores’ success.”

The Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Control Act, Manitoba’s legal framework for cannabis sales, requires all cannabis stores in the province to be licensed by the LGCA. Further, all cannabis sold at licensed stores must be purchased from Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries, the province’s exclusive wholesaler, which in turn may only acquire cannabis from producers licensed by Health Canada. These requirements apply regardless of whether a store is located on First Nations land.

Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries and the LGCA continue to work with Health Canada and law enforcement on upholding Manitoba’s legal cannabis framework.