Cowichan Tribes get permission to grow and sell cannabis

Published Jan 7, 2021 10:00 a.m. ET
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The Cowichan Tribes are the largest first-nation Band in the province of British Columbia, Canada. Out of approximately 49,000 members, half of them live on reserve, with the majority being from a relatively young demographic. A large number of the members are under 35. The reserve consists of seven traditional villages. One Chief and 12 Councilors govern the British Columbia reserve, which covers approx. 2,400 hectares.

The Cowichan Tribes' members have struck a deal with the B.C. government to be the second such business with the legal ability and permission to grow and retail cannabis from within the same business. The B.C. government allows the Vancouver Island tribe to participate in the combined business of growing marijuana and selling it for a one-year term.

The Cannabis Control and Licensing Act does not generally allow businesses to operate in both the retail and production side of the cannabis market at the same time, but the change was made in hopes of stopping large producers from dominating the cannabis market.

The very first deal that the B.C. government facilitated was with Williams Lake First Nation back in September 2020.

The Cowichan Tribes are partnering with Costa Canna to open the cannabis first store in the Cowichan Valley. The Cowichan Tribes hope to model the retail store and then expand the business across Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and eventually all of Canada. The pioneer retail store will be putting down roots in Duncan Mall, a spot that many locals will recognize as the prior home of Menchies's Frozen Yogurt. The Tribe is hoping for the shop to open on April 15, 2020.

The plans

As word spread that cannabis was going to become legal in Canada, the Cowichan Tribes began working on the type of cannabis operations they wanted to be involved in. Many different companies met with the tribes’ land manager Jodee Dyck to talk about a partnership. The partnership with the Tribe today has the same values as the Cowichan Tribes. These partners have grown up within the community and walk with the same values that the Cowichan Tribe holds.

As a First Nation, Cowichan Tribes have the option to create their own marijuana regulations in regard to opening a store, as other First Nations have done. However, the Cowichan Tribes chose to use the framework that is set out by the provincial government. In the eyes of the Costa Canna president, this process will enhance rather than diminish the community.

According to Phil Foucault, president of Costa Canna, health and wellness and the ability to transfer knowledge is the companies’ most prominent mainstay. The sharing of knowledge about the marijuana plant and how it can change people’s lives is paramount to the foundation of the company, according to the Cowichan Tribes.

Visions

Jodee Dyck envisions the model of the retail stores will be one with a wellness and health focus. The store will not be a place to pick up your cannabis, but an interactive learning center. The store will facilitate your ability to look up ailments and seek the appropriate treatment while offering advice on what cannabis can provide for you medicinally. The health benefits from the marijuana plants will be prevalent throughout the shops.

Health concerns

Concerns were bought to Chief William Seymour about marijuana reform and how it would affect the Cowichan Tribes, further encouraging the focus to take a health-oriented direction for the regulation of marijuana plants and sales. In response to these fears, Chief Seymour is planning to engage with the Vancouver Island Health Authority to provide counselling for anyone visiting the stores.

The unique partnership with this group is responsible in part for the naming of the company and following the provincial guidelines and regulations, which will ensure the expansion of the businesses. The word franchise will not be used, only the phrase partnerships with other communities. Hopefully, all seven traditional villages of the Cowichan Tribes will be working together so that the revenue generated will assist in the building of homes. Currently, there are overcrowding issues, and 600 people are on the waiting list for homes.

Final words

The first retail store will be operated on Cowichan Tribe land and primarily run by the Cowichan Tribes. However, the retail shops will not be limited to reserve lands only. Dyck is looking at the possibility of future shops moving off-reserve. Costa Canna will also not be limited to retail stores alone, as the vision is for growing marijuana plants to be part of the process while including distributing products domestically and globally.

The bustling black market for weed on First Nations reserves in Canada

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