Members of many First Nations attended a conference in North Battleford Thursday to find out more about the benefits of getting involved in niche markets such as medical marijuana production and how it could create more economic opportunites for Indigenous people
The event, called "The Indigenous Forum Emphasizing Indigenous Control - Food Sovereignty, Hemp & Medical Cannabis," was held at the Tropical Inn Wednesday and Thursday in North Battleford. Guest speakers discussed the benefits for First Nations producing organic food as well as going into the business of hemp production. By pursuing new opportunities for economic development, organizers said Indigenous communities may also become more self-sustaining.
Rod Gopher, a private business consultant from Saulteaux First Nation, attended the conference Thursday and said he supports any new developments to improve First Nation economies, including a medical marijuana production site.
"There will be job opportunities that will come with it," Gopher said. "I think it's a good idea. It creates employment ... It will make them a little more self-sufficient."
He said he attended another workshop on the topic in the Battlefords last year and saw that there was now increased interest.
Peter Cardinal, one of the organizers of the event and president of the Cousins Group of Companies, said a First Nation community in the Battlefords area has expressed an interest in going into the medical marijuana production business. He said if more First Nation communities venture into more self-sustaining business opportunities it will be good for their future growth.
Tim Barnhart, president of National Indigenous Medical Cannabis Association spoke at the conference and discussed how it is easier for a First Nation to venture into the medical marijuana production business because there are fewer bureaucratic steps to obtain approval, compared to recreational cannabis production. To enter into the medical marijuana market an organization needs to obtain approval at the federal level through Health Canada. To start a recreational marijuana production site, however, the group would need to receive approval from both the provincial and federal governments, he said.
"There is no provincial authority over medical cannabis; it's federal," Barnhart said, and noted medical cannabis production can be a very lucrative business in which to get involved.
Barnhart spoke about what his organization can do to help medical cannabis operations develop on First Nations.
"We're just educating a lot of the chiefs around here as to options that are available to them," he said. "Joining NIMCA is an option that's available, to regulate and standardize the growing process - the whole operation."
He said the National Indigenous Medical Cannabis Association is a governing body operating a parallel system to Health Canada, developing policy and regulations for First Nations communities involved in the medical cannabis industry. The organization also encourages the Indigenous medical cannabis industry to work towards regulating itself.
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