Toronto’s First Sovereign and Indigenous Cannabis Store Aims to Fight “Economic Genocide” and Operates Without a Provincial License
Mississaugas of the Credit Medicine Wheel, an Indigenous-owned and operated cannabis store, is more than just a dispensary: it’s an attempt to fight “economic genocide,” its owner and operator said.
The store, operated by Ken Hughes of Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, is sovereign, which means it operates outside the scope of Ontario’s cannabis regulations and without a license – scoring the first time a sovereign cannabis store has opened in Toronto.
Although Medicine Wheel appears to be Toronto’s first, it is not the only sovereign cannabis dispensary in Canada. A map of similar stores compiled by The Dispensing Freedom website shows more than 250 sovereign stores operating from coast to coast.
Since Danforth Avenue runs through part of the Mississaugas of the Credit Territory, Hughes asserts that First Nation members are entitled to self-government over the lands.
The existence of Medicine Wheel represents a return to the First Nation’s homeland, Hughes said.
“I wanted to support my own people first,” he said. “And this is our territory, so it’s a good place.”
Regarding the legality of the Medicine Wheel, attorney Jack Lloyd told The Star that in general Hughes could argue that there is a history of indigenous trade and medical use of the cannabis plant before colonialism. . Lloyd, who represents Hughes, said there was a difference between the sovereignty expressed by Hughes and the “sovereign citizens” movement.
“Sovereign citizens” are traditionally people who strive to sever ties with the government, “deregister” driver’s licenses, health cards, and have often supported unhindered property rights.
Unlike those who identify as “sovereign citizens,” Lloyd says Hughes’ situation is a “separate issue” related to Indigenous rights to various substances, noting that cannabis is similar to tobacco in its traditional use by indigenous peoples.
“It’s a pre-treaty economic right that my client expresses,” Lloyd added.
Hughes says that for him, following Ontario’s provincial driver’s license rules would be similar to getting a driver’s license from a province you don’t live in. He said he wouldn’t need a hunting license or a safety course to hunt in Mississaugas of the Credit. territory. “I have the right to do things in my traditional territory – and that’s one of the things.”
Hughes’ store is not only Indigenous owned and operated, its products are sourced from nation-to-nation trade with Mohawk and Six Nations territories.
“It’s a whole network of aboriginal people,” said Hughes. “That’s what we’re trying to establish.
The Star has contacted the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation for their thoughts on Hughes’ efforts, but has not had a response at the time of this article’s publication.
In the past, police have shut down operations at cannabis dispensaries run by Indigenous people. Last December, police raided a cannabis store on Aamjiwnaang Nation lands. Charges were subsequently withdrawn by the Crown for all but one employee.
Indigenous communities have been largely excluded from the conversation about legalizing cannabis in Canada. In late 2017, Indigenous leaders raised concerns about the safety of Indigenous communities if the government moved too quickly to legalize cannabis. In 2018, meanwhile, the Six Nations of the Grand River drafted their own cannabis law, rather than waiting for regulations to be passed by the federal and provincial governments.
At that time, former Six Nations elected chief Ava Hill told the Hamilton Spectator that Indigenous communities were being excluded from the discussion surrounding legalization.
Cheryl Tones, director of Medicine Wheel, said the dispensary can play a role in harm reduction for Toronto’s Indigenous community. She said the store’s prices are lower than some competitors, making it an accessible option for people who might otherwise turn to stronger substances.
There are some evidence according to an article published in the Drug and Alcohol Review.
Tones said she has worked with Toronto’s homeless community for 21 years and sees working with the community as integral to the work Hughes has set out to do in Medicine Wheel.
“I think it’s high time,” she said, of the store’s status as the first state-run cannabis store in Toronto.
Hughes offered some advice to other Aboriginal people looking to run a sovereign store similar to his.
First, contact a good lawyer.
Second, be prepared for any issues that might arise.
“Don’t look for confrontations, just come and exercise (your) right,” he said.