Senate Committee on Indigenous Peoples reference Sara Mainville of JFK Law in new report on the Cannabis Act and the long wait to accommodate First Nation Participation and Enforcement Needs

June 16, 2023

A newly released report of the Standing Senate Committee on Indigenous Peoples features prominent references to the testimony of Sara Mainville, Partner at JFK Law. Released on June 15, 2023, the Interim Report titled, On the Outside Looking In: The Implementation of the Cannabis Act and its effects on Indigenous Peoples, contains 13 recommendations to the Government of Canada and the independent Expert Panel tasked with assessing the legislative framework for cannabis. Ultimately finding that many of the pressing problems identified by witnesses prior to the legalization of cannabis remain unaddressed today, On the Outside Looking In describes the cannabis market’s current state of economic inequity, a pervasive absence of meaningful consultation between state governments and First Nations, and the troubling jurisdictional gaps that the Cannabis Act has exacerbated within contemporary Canadian federalism.

We at JFK Law are pleased to see Sara’s expertise recognized within the Committee’s Interim Report, where her perspective is emphasized in several pull-quotes and citations. In describing the Federal government’s failure to institute mechanisms for First Nations control over the possession, sale, and distribution of cannabis products, the Committee calls for greater cooperation and emphasizes Sara’s assertion that “[c]ooperative federalism is a framework for cannabis reform.” (On the Outside Looking In, at p. 15). The Report further notes over 150 years of economic exclusion—a trend continued under federal cannabis legislation—and highlights the need to level the playing field for First Nations through social equity measures. As succinctly stated by Sara:

If we had the tools, First Nation governments could be models of productive, responsible and economically sustainable communities. The promise of cannabis’s green rush has been overexaggerated, for sure, but the promise of equity and opportunity has certainly not been made, either in 2018 or 2022, for Indigenous peoples generally and First Nations specifically.

(On the Outside Looking In, at p. 23)

Selected recommendations from the Senate Committee’s Report include endorsements: that (#2) the Federal Minister of Health introduce amendments to the Cannabis Act so as to permit First Nations to regulate the possession, sale, and distribution of cannabis on their lands; that (#4) the Government of Canada establish legislative mechanisms for the enforcement of Band by-laws and other laws related to cannabis by all police services; that (#7) First Nations and Finance Canada collaborate in developing an excise tax-sharing framework; and that Indigenous Services Canada (#10) and the Federal government (#11) work to ensure medical cannabis is covered under the Non-Insured Health Benefits Program.

Those who are interested in or already engaged in the process of establishing or maintaining an Indigenous cannabis industry may wish to view this report here. A full list of recommendations can be found on page 32.

Sara and JFK Law are honoured to be working with numerous clients who are asserting and exercising jurisdiction in the area of cannabis regulation.