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Dispensary owners band together in Garden River First Nation, call for end to cannabis moratorium, police raids

Ketegaunseebee Medzin Society wants chief and council to scrap its retail weed ban and kick its cannabis consulting firm to the curb
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Ketegaunseebee Medzin Society member Frank Belleau speaks to people attending the first meeting of the grassroots group, which took place Dec. 19 at the Garden River First Nation Community Centre. James Hopkin/SooToday

A grassroots group led by cannabis dispensary owners in Garden River First Nation is calling on chief and council to lift its community-wide moratorium on cannabis. 

The recently-formed Ketegaunseebee Medzin Society issued a letter to the First Nation’s cannabis working group last week, calling for the cannabis moratorium and police raids on dispensaries to cease, and provided the cannabis working group with a petition containing the signatures of 245 band members. 

The group of cannabis retailers held its inaugural meeting at the Garden River First Nation Community Centre Dec. 19, which featured a talk about Indigenous sovereignty by former National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations) Chief Del Riley.

“We started it to form our sovereignty, and to show chief and council that we’re not going to take the federal laws,” said Allan Ward, who co-owns Temple Medicinal Inc., a cannabis dispensary and consulting firm based in Garden River First Nation. 

The cannabis retailers are also calling on Garden River First Nation to cut all ties with Bimaadzwin Inc., a consulting firm led by former Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day that currently handles more than a dozen cannabis files for First Nations in Ontario. 

The Ketegaunseebee Medzin Society believes that Bimaadzwin Inc. is undermining the sovereign rights of Garden River’s local cannabis retailers by attempting to guide the First Nation into aligning its cannabis policy with that of the federal government. 

In its letter to the cannabis working group, the Ketegaunseebee Medzin Society requests that chief and council address the grassroots group's concerns with Day and Bimaadzwin Inc. in writing before the cannabis retailers “engage in any further discussions or involving Bimaadzwin Inc.” 

“He’s promoting a federal framework for First Nations across Canada, in harmonization with Health Canada’s codes and laws - which don’t apply on First Nations land,” Ward told SooToday during last week’s meeting in Garden River. “So we’re standing up for our rights and asserting our sovereignty by telling them no, that’s not how it’s going to be.”

So far, Garden River First Nation and its cannabis working group have hosted three community meetings surrounding cannabis policy. 

There would’ve been a fourth meeting between local cannabis retailers, the First Nation’s cannabis working group and Bimaadzwin Inc., but Ward tells SooToday that the Dec. 18 meeting was abruptly cancelled for reasons unknown. 

“They’re scared now. They know they’re not going to get away with what they’re trying to do,” Ward said.

The cannabis retailers in Garden River - Ward tells SooToday there’s currently four in operation, including Temple Medicinal Inc. - say they plan to continue selling cannabis products, in spite of a Nov. 28 raid on a cannabis dispensary located in the First Nation. 

The recent raid in Garden River saw more than $30,000 in cash and cannabis products seized by Anishinabek Police Service. 

Ward says Temple Medicinal remains open for business, and that he's not overly concerned about the legal consequences of operating a cannabis dispensary in Garden River First Nation because it's a matter of asserting his sovereignty. 

“We’re not out to make enemies. We’re just here to work and make a living the best way we can, and the best way we know how,” Ward said. 

Garden River First Nation Chief Andy Rickard did not respond to interview requests from SooToday.