“Only First Nations can determine the decolonisation pathway for the crown”
Ngā Mihi ki a koutou e ngā manawhenua o te rohe nei.. Ki a koutou ngā iwi Musqueam, Squamish me Tsleil-Waututh. Mai i tōku Moana-nui-ā-kiwa ki tōu, e kore e mutu ake ngā tātai ukiuki i wāenga i a mātou.

Our acknowledgements to the unceded territories upon which we stood - To the indigenous Nations of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. From the shores of our Pacific Ocean to yours, the links of indigeneity between us never cease to connect us.

In October 2020, tied to the General Election, the country will engage in a referendum on whether or not to legalise Cannabis.  As a part of Hāpai’s remit to reduce drug related harm within our communities, we have been engaging in a number of activities with our communities, including community led research on drug related harm, co-design of workshops and delivery of community workshops.

In September, Hāpai was a part of a delegation which attended the Association of First Nations Inaugural Indigenous Cannabis Summit -the first since the passing of legislation in Canada whereby Cannabis was legalised across the country. Janell’s attendance to this conference as a part of the New Zealand Indigenous Delegation, alongside Jack Macdonald from New Zealand Drug Foundation, Tracy Potiki from Te Rau Matatini and Jason Mareroa from Te Korowai Aroha o Aotearoa (and cultural Support for Hāpai) was invaluable in that it provided a scope on the conversations that Māori communities, organisations, whānau, hapū and Iwi need to be participating in with regards to drug related harm, both inclusive of cannabis, and beyond to higher class drugs. It further prepared Hāpai te Hauora as one of the lead Maori advocate Organisation in the multi-layered and complex discussion on alcohol and drug related harm for Māori.

Summit Presentations:

The summit itself included presentations from a variety of factions with interests in cannabis as both an industry and as a substance.

The Legality of Legalising Cannabis:

Indigenous experts from the legal sector (Stuart Wuttke – Legal Cuncil for AFN) provided discussion points on the resolutions passed by the Assemby of First Nations, as well as the interplay between federal law, provincial law and First Nations law (Drew Lafond & Sonia Eggerman). Whilst this was technical and somewhat specific to Canadian Law, it was relevant in that it highlighted a number of key considerations for Māori in New Zealand, in light of the upcoming referendum. Further presenations provided an update on the legal precendents of both jurisdiction issues and the rights of indigenous poeples to cannabis as a rongoā. Some key questions and challenges faced by the indigenous communities in Canada have included:

The Regulation of Cannabis as a legal substance:

Presentations on the health impacts of cannabis considered the issues with quality control of cannabis (Quality: Nutrient law – narrow leaf vs. Broad leaf and implications of different strands of cannabis and diferent potency of THC vs. CBD) as a substance and looked at the regulation of cannabis according to Health Canada and the potential of establishing an independant Indigenous Regulation Authority. Interestingly, before the legislative change, there was no coherent and robust dataset regarding the sate of harms of cannabis in terms of health, or otherwise (beyon drug related charges) notwithstanding the community mapping undertaken by thunderbird Foundation. This provides a severe disadvantage to first nations in that they have no clear gauge on whether cannabis legalisation has increased or decreased overall harm.

The Health and Social implications of legalising Cannabis:

Presentations highlighted the raft of health implications for the use of cannabis, including the evidential links between cannabis use in youth and the onset of schizophrenia and other psychoses. Conversely, Cannabis can support the weaning process for opioid addiciton and other related addictions. There were a number of presentations which highlighted the cannabis legalisation as a harm reduction response, unable to be contextualized outside of the ongoing social, justice and economic contributors. There was strong advocacy for instituting a legal age to buy at 19 minimum, and limiting possession amount to 30grams per person. The First Nations Health Authority highlighted on their role in regulating and advocating for safe use of cannabis. Long-term potential health implications of ongoing cannabis use included mental illness, attention and concentration difficulties, memory, learning and cognitive impairment, lung damage, amotivational syndrome and fetal harm if smoked during pregnancy. The overarching theme across all speakers was that cannabis misuse is strongly tied to intergenerational trauma for indigenous peoples.

Economic Considerations of the Legal Cannabis Market:

Discussions on the economic market of cannabis facotred in many different conversations which, up until the summit, were trial and error learnings. Licencing and regulation was difficult for First Nations People in that, indigenous people were being locked out of the cannabis market – for instance, Banks werent willing to loan money for start-up businesses in the cannabis industry if the business was to be on a reservation, or would not hold money. The questions of the insurance of venues, of vehicles and of other assets, where they involved cannabis as a business all came up for question. First Nations were also discriminiated against in the lottery process that was used to distribute licences. Green future industries shared their learnings on entering the hemp industry and cannabis industry to best benefit nations economc growth. Kanata Earth discussed the trends in Cannabis as a multi-billion dollar industry. Korero by Manny Jules (Chief First Nations Tax Commissioner) highlighted the creation of a grey market to which First Nations people had been moved to. Concerningly, Big Industry corporations in the cannabis market are already prepared to “move into” New Zealand, if the referendum is upheld, problematic in both the potential boom of an industry within a country who is still attempting to explore the harms of cannabis, and also in that Māori will not be prepared unless we begin to have the conversations early so that we can best influence the legislation, if passed to benefit Māori.

This left us with much to write home about, and has left us needeing to categorically ensure that Māori voices are proliferated in the conversations around the cannabis Referendum. Ou Help Not Handcuffs Collective is working on a Call to Action that reflects all of the conversations that we’ve had across Aotearoa, within our communities, as well as our learnings from the AFN hui. We look forward to sharng this, as well as tools, with our communities!

Presentation: Association of First Nations Inaugural Indigenous Cannabis Summit