Saskatchewan First Nation files claim in court over cannabis dispensary

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A First Nation operating a cannabis dispensary without a provincial permit has laid the groundwork for taking the federal and Saskatchewan governments to court.

The Muscowpetung First Nation filed a statement of claim in Regina Court of Queen’s Bench on Nov. 16, the same week the band opened a pot shop on its reserve northeast of the city.

The store Mino-Maskihki, which means “good medicine,” advertises on its Facebook page the sale of recreational and medicinal cannabis products.

Recreational cannabis became legal in Canada last October and Saskatchewan used a lottery to award 51 licences to sellers.

The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, which regulates cannabis sales, warned the band it is subject to provincial and federal laws when it comes to recreational marijuana.

But Chief Anthony Cappo has said the First Nation has a sovereign right to pass its own cannabis regulations.

“It’s still operating under their jurisdiction. They gave themselves a permit,” Cherish Francis, who speaks for Muscowpetung, told The Canadian Press on Thursday.

“In our opinion … they do have a licence because it’s their land and their territory.”

The First Nation is seeking a declaration that it has an inherent right to self-government and that it has the power to sell and regulate cannabis under the constitutional rights of Indigenous people in Canada.

“Canada enacted a legislative regime that supports a monopoly for shared jurisdiction between the federal and provincial government over medical and recreational cannabis,” the statement of claim reads.

“First Nations’ jurisdiction … over cannabis is not recognized by the federal and provincial cannabis regime.”

The band also wants a declaration that provincial and federal cannabis laws do not apply on its land.

Saskatchewan and Ottawa are both named in the filing, but neither the province’s Justice Ministry nor the Attorney General of Canada has been served with the statement of claim, their spokespeople said.

Under the law, a defendant must be served within six months of a claim being filed in court. Sonia Eggerman, legal counsel for the First Nation, declined comment when asked if the Moscowpetung statement would be served.

“They’re still in discussions with the province and the feds and they’re at no liberty to really say anything on the file,” said Francis.

Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan has met with Cappo at least once since the store opened.

Morgan has already expressed that he prefers the matter be resolved outside court and wants the First Nation to shut down its store, then apply for a provincial permit.

The claim says Cappo invited officials from the Ministry of Trade and Export Development for discussions as early as last July. It says the government responded that it would discuss the question of working together, but the First Nation did not hear anything back after that.

The claim also says Morgan was invited to the reserve two days before the document was filed, but “this invitation was met with silence.” 

It says cannabis serves as important medicine for members of the First Nation and is used to address trauma inflicted by residential schools as well as to treat opioid addiction and chronic illnesses.

“Traditional medicines from powerful herbs, roots and plants, such as cannabis, have been used by (Muscowpetung First Nation) prior to the arrival of Europeans,” it reads.

The reserve is home to 380 people but has a registered population of more than 1,400 members.

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