The provincial government of Saskatchewan, Canada announced on Tuesday that it has introduced legislation designed to give the province’s First Nations regulatory authority over cannabis operations in the areas they govern. The first of two bills, The Summary Offenses Procedure Amendment Act (SOPA) of 2022, will provide a legal framework that First Nations communities can use to enforce laws and bylaws on reserve lands, while the second piece of legislation establishes the provincial legal framework for First Nations to license and regulate the distribution and retail sales of cannabis.
“The Government of Saskatchewan is proud to take this important step as part of our ongoing work with the Muskoday and Whitecap Dakota First Nations,” Justice Minister and Attorney General Bronwyn Eyre said in a statement from the provincial government. “These amendments will allow these and other First Nations communities in the future to use the more simplified summary offenses procedure, instead of the long-form process under the federal Criminal Code, to issue tickets and fines such as those issued for traffic violations and other provincial offenses.”
The second bill, The Cannabis Control (Saskatchewan) Amendment Act of 2022, establishes the provincial legal framework for First Nations to license and regulate the distribution and retailing of cannabis on First Nation reserve lands. Under the legislation, First Nations will be subject to existing provincial and federal legislation to establish a local authority to self-govern cannabis operations. Retailers conforming with the regulations, which have not yet been written, will be able to purchase from cannabis producers regulated by the federal government.
The new legislative amendments follow a Memorandum of Understanding that was signed by the Government of Saskatchewan, the Muskoday First Nation, and the Whitecap Dakota First Nation in October 2019 to address longstanding issues concerning sovereignty and the enforcement of First Nations’ laws.
“First Nations assert their jurisdiction and maintain community safety by creating laws under the Indian Act, land codes, and other federal legislation but there have been difficulties in enforcing these laws in the courts,” said Chief Darcy Bear of Whitecap Dakota First Nation. “Through our work with the provincial government, the amendments to SOPA will give us access to prosecution and enforcement tools that will give force to our laws in areas such as environmental protection and community safety; and strengthen the place of our laws alongside federal and provincial law.”
The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority is responsible for administering and enforcing cannabis regulations within the province. Lori Carr, the minister who heads the SLGA, said that the province is in favor of giving First Nations autonomy over cannabis regulatory administration and enforcement on reserve lands.
“Our government supports First Nations exercising their authority over on-reserve distribution and retailing of cannabis through a legal framework with SLGA,” said Carr. “This change further fosters reconciliation by ensuring First Nation-owned businesses are able to fully participate in the economic opportunities presented by the retail cannabis industry.”
“One of the biggest benefits that they’ll have is they’ll be able to access the product from the Canadian government, so they’ll be able to ensure the product they’re getting is safe for their consumers,” Carr added.
The Zagime Anishinabeck First Nation has operated a cannabis dispensary for retail sales near Regina, Saskatchewan since 2019, overseeing the enterprise via its own policy and regulatory bylaws. Chief Lynn Acoose said that because the sovereign First Nations are self-governing communities, the new legislation from the provincial government is not necessary.
“We have our own laws and bylaws,” Acoose told reporters on Tuesday, adding, “So far, the framework we’ve put in place has served us well.”
With the First Nation’s regulations already in place, Acoose said that the Zagime Anishinabeck does not support regulations that would give Saskatchewan officials authority over First Nation cannabis enterprises.
“We would not be interested in entering into any kind of agreement with the province with respect to enforcing any kind of provincial statutes on reserve,” said Acoose, adding that complying with federal laws is a different matter.
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