Long Plain First Nation chief won’t back down from province over unlicensed pot shop claim

The chief of a Manitoba First Nation says he has no plans of backing down from a fight with the province over the operation of a cannabis shop, and no plans to shut the store down, despite the threat of legal action.

“We really don’t have a choice, it’s a matter of protecting our sovereignty and our treaty,” Long Plain First Nation Chief Dennis Meeches said on Thursday. “It has come to a head, and they have forced our hand, so we have no choice but to defend our sovereignty.”

Last week, the province filed a statement of claim looking to shut down the Indigenous Bloom cannabis store in Portage la Prairie, calling the operation an “unlicensed retail shop.”

The statement of claim says that the shop, which is a partnership between Long Plain First Nation and B.C.-based cannabis company Indigenous Bloom, is operating without a Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority license, and is selling products not supplied through Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries. (MBLL)

“The absence of any cannabis store agreement with MBLL, and the absence of any retail cannabis store license, means all sales of cannabis occurring at the Indigenous Bloom store are contrary to the laws of Manitoba and Canada,“ the statement of claim states.

Meeches said there are now no plans to shut down the store, which was up and running on Thursday.

He said that as a First Nation, Long Plain should have control over its own business operations, and not be subject to what he called the province’s “heavy-handed approach.”

“According to the treaty we are a sovereign nation within the nation of Canada, and this lawsuit is just another extension of colonialism and economic oppression under this provincial government,” Meeches said.

“We don’t see any economic reconciliation happening with this government, it’s very frustrating.”

According to Meeches, the cannabis being sold in the store is from a reputable company, even though it is not being supplied through MBLL.

“All this will come out in court eventually, but it’s not like we’re buying off the black market or something, so this all just makes no sense at all,” he said.

Meeches said he still hopes that some sort of agreement can be reached before the issue gets dragged out in court, but added voluntarily shuttering the store is not an option he will consider.

“There is still an opportunity to negotiate,” Meeches said. “I have sent a letter to Minister of Indigenous Relations Eileen Clarke, and let them know there is always room to negotiate.”

In a statement sent to the Winnipeg Sun on Thursday, a Manitoba Justice spokesperson said the same rules must apply for all cannabis retailers in Manitoba.

“The Attorney General has taken action here to apply one set of rules to everyone in the public interest, to protect the health and safety of all Manitobans, to protect the integrity of the established legal framework for cannabis sales in Manitoba, and to protect the interests of all Manitoba retailers that participate in the legal system, by ensuring consistent access to controlled and authorized cannabis products from licensed producers.” the spokesperson said.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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