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Garden River, Batchewana leadership say owners of unauthorized cannabis dispensaries could face criminal charges if moratoriums are ignored

Owners of unauthorized cannabis dispensaries in Garden River First Nation and Batchewana First Nation could potentially face legal consequences – namely, trafficking charges – by defying moratoriums on the production and sale of cannabis products on-reserve. 

Anishinabek Police Service Sgt. Chris Thibodeau confirmed with SooToday that notices were served to four cannabis dispensaries in Garden River First Nation on behalf of chief and council June 16.

Interim moratoriums on the production and sale of cannabis were implemented by chief and council in November 2018, and again in November 2019.  

“Essentially what they [chief and council] wanted to put across was that any production or sale of cannabis is not going to be tolerated by them until they’ve implemented their own policies or laws concerning it,” Thibodeau said. 

The notice issued by Garden River First Nation warns that failure to adhere to the moratorium will result in legal consequences, and could potentially jeopardize “future participation in the cannabis industry.” 

“I know for sure that a couple of them have reopened” 

Thibodeau, who serves as detachment commander Anishinabek Police Service for Garden River, tells SooToday that the notices were issued when COVID-19 checkpoints and barricades into the community were removed Tuesday. 

“I know for sure that a couple of them have reopened,” said Thibodeau. “During COVID some did close their doors, some would open occasionally – but once the barricades came down, that’s when I issued the notices. And the following day, a couple did have their ‘open’ signs and they were open for business.” 

Thibodeau says that if Garden River First Nation residents continue to disobey the moratorium, Anishinabek Police Service will then proceed to investigate the illegal trafficking of cannabis in the community. 

Although some dispensary owners there disagreed with the stance taken by chief and council, Thibodeau says that he and a constable had some “good conservations” when serving cannabis entrepreneurs with the notices face to face. 

“They were good. I was very happy with them,” he said. “It was essentially the response I thought I would get, but it did not get heated or argumentative.”

Garden River First Nation has been working on its own laws and policies surrounding cannabis since the moratoriums went into effect, but according to its own notice, the COVID-19 pandemic has effectively stalled that work. 

The First Nation expects consultation with its membership to resume shortly in an effort to get its cannabis law ratified in July or August. 

“Since then, chief and council has undertaken extensive work to prepare and consult with the community on our new cannabis law, but as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were not able to complete consultations and implement the law,” the notice read. 

Garden River First Nation Chief Andy Rickard was unavailable for comment. 

Rankin dispensaries could face criminal charges 

In Batchewana First Nation, two unauthorized cannabis dispensaries – The Ranch 15D and Gene’s Variety – were issued letters by Batchewana First Nation CEO Kim Lambert on behalf of chief and council earlier this month, reiterating the consequences associated with the cultivation, distribution and sale of cannabis products within its territories.

The First Nation’s moratorium was originally implemented in late November 2018 by way of band council resolution (BCR) #2018-043.

“This is still in force and effect and can only be lifted by subsequent BCR from chief and council, passed at a duly convened meeting,” the letter obtained by SooToday reads. “If you or anyone is found to be in contravention of this moratorium, the proposed business owners and land owners could face potential criminal charges, including trafficking.”

It’s unclear where the First Nation is at in terms of creating its own cannabis laws. 

Batchewana First Nation Chief Dean Sayers declined SooToday’s request for an interview. 

SooToday has reached out to cannabis dispensary owners in both First Nations.

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