The provincial government declared cannabis retail an essential service in March 2020, just weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic.

The prospect of opening a new cannabis business in Chilliwack during a global pandemic was described as “interesting” by Cannabis Connection’s retail operations manager, Tina Cox.

The store on Dyke Road celebrated its first year of operations in June, having been the first licensed store to open in the vast area between Vancouver and Kamloops in June 2019, but it was not subject to City of Chilliwack business licensing.

The list of licensed cannabis stores to date include:

The Kure (Dyke Road), Cannabis Connection (Industrial Way), Seed & Stone (Lickman Road), This is Cannabis (Vedder Road), Dutch Brothers Buds (Vedder Road), and BC Cannabis Store (Luckakuck Way).

Also emerging from Stólo territory in Chilliwack was a trend toward grey-area stores operating on Indigenous land, under land codes enacted by those individual nations. It turns out it is part of a sustained effort by a collective of First Nations to negotiate a retail licensing agreement directly with the provincial government and the Cannabis Secretariat.

Several local stores run by local First Nations went from “Indigenous Bloom” branding to “All Nations” branding on reserves around Chilliwack.

A consortium, All Nations Chiefs, has been trying to negotiate an in with the provincial government on the cannabis distribution question for months, with an application pending as a licensed producer at the same time.

Darwin Douglas, All Nations Cannabis CEO, and Cheam First Nation councillor said the goal is creating a path towards self-determination through legal cannabis.

“Today, we remain on the fringes of an industry that we should have the equal right to participate in,” Douglas said. “Our rights are not recognized on our reserves, segregating our communities from creating a livelihood and fighting poverty.”

“All Nations Chiefs” comprises leaders from Shxwa:y First Nation, Cheam First Nation, Soowahlie First Nation and Sq’ewlets First Nation.

The Cannabis Control and Licensing Act does allow the province to enter “government-to-government agreements” with First Nations to address “unique, community-specific interests” regarding cannabis, a statement from a provincial spokesperson said, citing the province’s first cannabis agreement with the Williams Lake First Nation in September.

“The Province is actively working with a number of Nations that have expressed interest in similar agreements,” a media spokesperson said.

While the provincial government opted not to participate in a recent roundtable discussion, Indigenous leaders involved with All Nations pledge to continue that licensing battle.

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