"Indigenous peoples are entitled to a say in how the government implements the legalization of cannabis. They have expressed real concerns to us—the potential for increased harmful effects on Indigenous communities on the one hand, and the possibility of losing out on economic opportunities on the other. We must address these issues."
That was the message delivered in Ottawa earlier today (May 1) by Senator Lillian Eva Dyck, chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, before tabling the committee's report on Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act.
The report recommends that the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology amend the bill and delay its implementation by one year, so that First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities can consult with the government on tax revenue for cannabis produced on their land, but also to allow for more time to produce cannabis-related educational materials that are both culturally specific and linguistically appropriate.
In addition, it is urging the federal government to substantially increase funding for mental health and addictions programs, residential treatment centres, nursing services, traditional healing centres, and police services that serve Indigenous people and communities.
Senators write in the 20-page report that a number of Indigenous communities and organizations told them they were not consulted by the government on the subject matter of the bill. In total, the committee heard from 23 witnesses over the course of five meetings.
"There was an alarming lack of consultation particularly given this government’s stated intentions of developing a new relationship with Indigenous people... and the rights of Indigenous communities to be consulted. Had sufficient consultation occurred, the problems identified by the Committee would likely have been solved, and the solutions incorporated into Bill C-45," the report reads.
The report also asks that the federal government recognize and affirm that Indigenous communities have the right to enact legislative and regulatory responses to the proposed legislation.
"Indigenous peoples have the inherent right of self-determination, including the appropriate law-making authority to make meaningful decisions that affect the lives of their people and communities, including regulating cannabis," the report continues.
A second amendment suggests that the Minister of Health should reserve a minimum of 20 percent of all cannabis production licences for producers on lands under the jurisdiction or ownership of Indigenous governments.
Senator Scott Tannas, the deputy chair of the committee, reiterated Dyck's points and said that while the government may consider their consultation with Indigenous communities as adequate, "the people we heard from said otherwise."
"Representatives of Indigenous communities from across the country told us they're not ready. We listened. The government should too."