One Chippewa cannabis store is taking on Canadian regulators by calling its own shots, on its own terms.
On Dec. 3, Spirit River Cannabis in London, Ontario, officially opened its doors with no provincial licensing in place, Dispensing Freedom reported. The business says it will operate 24 hours a day and is offering $20 ounces, completely tax-free.
Spirit River's owners cite the move as a step toward “economic reconciliation,” perhaps the first time an Indigenous cannabis business launched in a major urban center with no licensing agreements from a settler state.
"We're exercising our constitutional rights and our treaty rights to fend off economic genocide," said Spirit River Cannabis owner Maurice French, a member of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation. "This is a medicine."
French says that the business will provide traditional medicine to Indigenous individuals on the Chippewa Nation's land. He maintains it is his constitutional right to do so, as per Sections 25 and 35 of Canada’s Constitution — which his uncle and advocate, Chief Del Riley of the Crane Clan Chippewa Nation, helped to author.
Chief Del Riley has been an outspoken advocate for Indigenous rights within the cannabis space, and has toured the country in support of Indigenous cannabis entrepreneurs. The chief, alongside his nephew, personally delivered a letter announcing the opening of Spirit River Cannabis Co.’s London location to London’s mayor and police chief.
“I appreciate that the City of London’s Land Acknowledgment expresses your recognition of the ‘sovereign’ nature of the Chippewa Nation and the City’s willingness to ‘decolonize’ and uphold our treaty rights,” wrote Del Riley in his letter to Mayor Josh Morgan.
Spirit River’s newly opened fourth location — a trailer in central London, a city of nearly 500,000 residents — will operate under the North Shore Anishnabek Cannabis Association's regulations. Spirit River also owns stores in Ipperwash, Melbourne, and Chippewas of the Thames
In contrast to Ontario's provincial regulations of cannabis stores, Spirit River’s staff has been trained in the medical applications of its cannabis products. Perhaps most significantly, it will not be paying taxes to Ontario or Canada.
Indigenous cannabis entrepreneurs in Canada have long held that they are bound by no regulatory structures except those of their own First Nations. Many see the budding legal marijuana industry as an opportunity for Indigenous communities to seek the economic justice that has been denied to them by centuries of colonialism.
French also affirms that some 80% to 90% of Spirit River’s stock will be “sourced by First Nations people.” That’s another big difference from Canada-regulated cannabis stores, which are required to get their stock from federally licensed producers.
French affirmed to CBC that his intent is not to enter into conflict with the Ontario cannabis industry, whose Alcohol and Gaming Commission has yet to comment on the opening of the new Spirit River location.
"We're only here to be amicable,” he said. “We didn't come here to cause friction.”
"It's the law of the land,” continued Chief Riley. “We're enforcing the Constitution of Canada, and we're doing it peacefully."
Not everyone's happy with the Spirit River opening, though. Marie Ross, who owns Bob’s Bud Emporium in St. Thomas, recently wrote a letter to London's mayor complaining about the Chippewa-owned cannabis shop.
Spirit River "could have gone through the same process we all did and they chose not to," Ross told the London Free Press. “They need to follow the same rules as the rest of us."
The mayor's office reportedly wrote back to Ross, saying Spirit River was not within the city's jurisdication, and any issues with it fell under the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.
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