First Indigenous dispensary license holder in Ontario welcomes customers

Published Jul 14, 2020 12:00 p.m. ET
iStock / BalkansCat

Do you know Zachary Lacelle? The Nipissing First Nation community is thankful for the Northern Zen Cannabis recreational dispensary. His store has the first Indigenous cannabis license holder status in Ontario.  Cannabis news is abuzz with what the community thinks about the on territory recreational dispensary. Will the community support this Indigenous entrepreneur?

Cannabis news advises us to remember the address which is located on the Nipissing First Nation Reservation. The reservation is just off Hi-way 17 and is west of North Bay. This is the address of the history-making Indigenous recreational cannabis store.  Business is going pretty well, says Zachary, owner of Zen Cannabis, but he is anxious to see the support he will receive from the local community.

He and the several other residents who applied for licenses from Health Canada did so with the local band council's backing. Under the resolution of the Band council, the recreational dispensary must be located at the Bineshii Business Park.  Zen Cannabis was one of eight receivers of a license during the second lottery conducted in Ontario for cannabis licenses, which begs the question of why he was the third recreational dispensary to open on this stretch of road on the reserve.


Northern Zen was not the first store to open on reserve, but not for lack of trying. Lacelle received the very first Indigenous license, but he was not the first to open an Indigenous recreational dispensary, as obstacles were in his path.

  • The lack of hydro was a significant issue, and time was not on his side, as it took more than seven months to get electricity established on the property.

  • First Nation people have also been impacted by the pandemic, which slowed the progress of Lacelle’s plans.

The plan for opening the recreational dispensary was to be operational by April. Then COVID-19 appeared, and the timing of opening a recreational dispensary did not seem like the correct thing to do. However, he knew that it would happen eventually. His opening put him as the third adult store to offer cannabis for purchase on the Nipissing First Nation Reserve.

The first recreational dispensary to open was:

  • Kana Leaf which was already in possession of a building at the time of obtaining the license

Followed closely by:

  • Cheerful Charlies which was an operational gas bar and convenient store

Invitation only

June 26, 2020, saw the lights go on at Northern Zen for a "pre-opening," welcoming social media and other followers and VIPs. The social event was to thank them for the support they had provided during the path to the successful opening of the recreational dispensary.

The future

Lacelle believes that it is a matter of taking things slow for his recreational dispensary to flourish. He can now follow his dream of owning and operating a craft cannabis facility, which is along the same lines as a brewery. Under the terms of the Health Canada license, his cannabis craft business is labelled micro cultivation, but it is essentially the same thing just with a different name.

One planned feature of his recreational dispensary is the installing of a sensory bar. Due to COVID-19, this project, out of respect and the fears of the virus has been put on hold.  Lacelle is conscious that not all First Nation peoples are supportive of the cannabis industry and the adult stores that support cannabis. The current business plan that Lacelle is following will be reviewed in six months' time and reassessed for necessary changes.

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