The chief of Long Plain First Nation, a partner in the Meta Cannabis Supply Co. store in Winnipeg whose licence the regulator suspended this week, said the province made a big mistake taking the action it did.
"There will be a price to be paid," said Dennis Meeches.
While neither side is fully disclosing the rationale for the action, Meeches believes it is at least partially related to payment (or non-payment) of the six per cent social responsibility fee charged on revenue from cannabis sales.
Meeches, and other First Nations leaders, believe the imposition of the social responsibility fee (SRF) is an infringement of treaty rights.
A Long Plain company is a partner in the Meta Cannabis store on Madison Street whose licence was suspended this week.
Long Plain is also a partner of a cannabis store called Indigenous Bloom on Long Plain First Nation’s Keeshkeemaquah reserve land in Portage la Prairie.
While an official with Liquor Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba said there was "no concern about compliance at that store" on Madison Street, in a joint release this week LGCA and Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries said Long Plain "sanctioned and continues to participate in the sale of unregulated cannabis from an unlicensed store on the First Nation’s Keeshkeemaquah reserve."
Meeches disputes that, saying that that store is not selling unregulated cannabis.
"Right now we believe we are following all of Health Canada regulations," Meeches said. "Our cannabis supply is regulated and eventually we will provide that information. It looks like we may end up in court because of Brian Pallister and his heavy-handed tactics."
"It looks like we may end up in court because of Brian Pallister and his heavy–handed tactics.” –Chief Dennis Meeches
Meeches could not confirm it, but believes it is likely that the Madison Street store was submitting the SRF but that the Indigenous Bloom store was not.
"The leadership of the Long Plain First Nation has adopted the Long Plain First Nation Cannabis Law… (which) is an expression of the band’s inherent right to self-determination, which includes the right to exclusively govern cannabis-related activities on reserve," a release from Long Plain’s tribal government said.
Provincial regulations state: "A retailer that does not pay the SRF risks losing their provincial retailer license (sic)."
The revenues generated by the SRF are to help fund the social costs of public education, safety, health and addictions associated with the legalization of cannabis.
"There are a lot of moving parts to this story," Meeches said. "When legalization of the cannabis industry first happened we thought initially there would be an opportunity to look at mirroring the tobacco rebate program and we would have been fine with that."
Meeches and others believe the imposition of the SRF is an infringement of First Nations’ treaty rights to tax exemption.
All cannabis sold at licensed stores must be purchased from Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries, which can only acquire it from producers licensed by Health Canada, said Lisa Hansen, a spokeswoman for LGCA.
"This framework protects Manitobans by ensuring that cannabis users have access to safe products from regulated retailers. Any sales outside of this framework raise significant public safety concerns," she said.
Indigenous Bloom’s product all met or exceeded Health Canada regulations, Meeches said.
Long Plains is a franchisee with Indigenous Bloom, which has a chain of stores mostly on First Nation reserves in Western Canada. A spokesperson for Indigenous Bloom was not available for comment.
A spokesman for High Tide Inc., the company that acquired Meta Growth Corp. late last year, said it takes compliance issues very seriously and that the store whose licence was suspended was in complete compliance.
"They (Meta/High Tide) have been unfairly exposed by this action," Meeches said. "Obviously, they are concerned."
Meeches and Omar Shah of High Tide said that there will likely be changes in the partnership arrangement at the Madison Street store.
Meanwhile, it is business as usual at Indigenous Bloom in Portage.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.