It’s been less than a week since the legalization of cannabis in Canada and the cash is already flowing in for Winnipeg pot shops.
Peguis First Nation is one of the communities in Manitoba hoping to get their hands in the pot pie.
It’s the largest First Nations community in the province and, like others, struggle with high unemployment rates, poverty and housing issues.
“People complain about us being a burden on tax payers,” said Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson.
“Here’s an opportunity for us to generate our own economic growth and sustainability.”
Peguis has teamed up with the Toronto-based group GrowForce to create a new retail store on its urban reserve in Winnipeg. The company will help oversee facilities and train workers, up to 200, according to Hudson.
Retailer Meta open its first store on Oct. 17, the day of legalization and partner Opaskwayak Cree Nation is already seeing the green.
Chief Christian Sinclair says the community invested $3 million and are already seeing a return in investment.
“Just on the share value side…we’ve already made 400 to 500 per cent on that,” said Sinclair on opening day. “We’ve paid back some of that original investment.”
Opaskwayak is one of the largest investors in the Meta brand store run by National Access Cannabis, a company originally started to provide education around the medicinal cannabis field.
The company is also working with Long Plain First Nation and Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation.
Sinclair says revenue from the stores will address some of the long-standing issues in the community including resources for education, culture, language, rehabilitation and health care.
National Access Cannabis will open 10 stores in the province by early 2019. An additional four will open on First Nations including one on Opaskwayak, which will create 12 jobs according to Sinclair.
Partnerships with First Nations was an important aspect of National Access Cannabis’ business plan.
“What we want to do is work with them and their communities,” said Matt Ryan, vice-president of marketing for National Access Cannabis. “Make sure that the stores that are built are done locally, that the staff that come to the stores are local and from those communities.”
For Opaskwayak getting into the pot business isn’t just about the money, the community took into consideration the proposed health benefits.
“When we discussed it at our table with our elders not once did they call it an illegal drug,” said Sinclair.
“Every single one of them had a story to share of someone in their family using it to treat cancer, diabetes, lupus, etc. and they referred to is as maskiki or medicine in Cree.”
Sinclair says if the community didn’t get involved users would continue purchasing off the black market.
Opaskwayak is expected to open their Meta branch at the end of October.