By Mike Anderson

Jared Big Canoe, a Chippewa from Georgina Island First Nation (GIFN), has opened 8th Fire Co., Sutton’s first pot shop at 120 High Street.

Big Canoe says he originally intended to open a cannabis dispensary on the First Nation, but the Chief and Band Council would not grant permission – GIFN’s cannabis code requires their approval to open a pot shop on reserve lands.

Undeterred, Big Canoe has opened his pot shop on High St, believing he has the right to sell cannabis anywhere in GIFN’s traditional territory, including Sutton, without government approval.

“We have a right to have an economy that’s based out of our traditional territory,” Big Canoe told the Post.

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“The whole Town of Georgina was our traditional hunting territory. I’m just continuing the practice of hunting and trapping and gathering for my family.”

According to Big Canoe, certain sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms allow Indigenous people the right to sell cannabis on traditional lands.

He’s already been operating Sovereign Solutions, a pot shop in Toronto located at 70 Dundas East, close to Dundas Square, for the past 16 months.

“When we started doing that, I was looking at what are the rights and why are Indigenous people doing this,” he said.

“In the Canadian constitution, there are Sections 25 and 35. And they talk about an Indigenous person’s right to self-determination. And to continue the practices that they’ve always practiced. So prior to colonization, there’s research that’s been done that shows cannabis plants were in use in North America.”

Still, Big Canoe expects there may be some pushback from the Town, police and local AGCO-approved cannabis stores.

“The reserve isn’t the only place where we used to exist, so I’m trying to push the envelope a little bit,” he said. “I don’t expect prosecution, but I am up for that. I’m already aware and willing to deal with that.”

But Big Canoe hopes the “powers that be” will eventually leave him alone.

One of the flash points may be his pot shop’s proximity to Georgina Academy, a Montessori School (Pre-K to Gr. 6), located across the street at 115 High St.

According to AGCO regulations and the Town’s public interest statement on cannabis stores, a pot shop in Georgina cannot be located within 150 metres of a school or daycare.

Still, Big Canoe says his store will restrict sales to 19+ only.

Big Canoe is also selling cannabis edibles that contain between 200 to 1000 milligrams of THC per package.

Regulated pot shots in Ontario are restricted to 10 milligrams, although the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) has lobbied the federal government to increase this cap.

However, it appears the Town will not get involved.

According to a Town spokesperson, the Municipal Law Enforcement Division considers the pot shop outside its jurisdiction, although it will advise AGCO and YRP that an unlicensed pot shop has opened in Sutton.

The Post asked the AGCO for comment. However, it also says the pot shop is not within its jurisdiction and is a police matter.

“Please note that the AGCO does not have a compliance role pertaining to stores selling cannabis without an AGCO licence. Compliance related to these illegal operations is the responsibility of local police forces, given their role in enforcing criminal law,” an AGCO spokesperson said.

While cannabis is still considered a contentious product worthy of regulation, Big Canoe doesn’t see it that way.

He views cannabis as “plant medicine” sourced from Indigenous growers, pointing out how it helped him to recover from a personal addiction.

“I’m a recovering addict. So, to me, it is harm reduction,” he said. “I don’t reach for any of that stuff that could really ruin my life because cannabis is here to help me, and it keeps me on a good path.”

“I want to offer people a higher-quality product. Something that they can for sure know is organic. They can know that they are getting very good medicine,” he added.

“I believe that if we are going to have Indigenous cannabis, it should be right from the seed to the store where it gets sold.”

Big Canoe also sees his storefront as more than a pot shop. He believes it will be an Indigenous information centre where people can learn more about Indigenous art and culture.

Part art gallery, the shop features a series of paintings from Indigenous artists, many of which he has collected over the years, including works by Thomas Sinclair and Brian Dwayne Sarazin.

The shop also sells Indigenous products, including clothing, crafts, and candles infused with sweet grass, sage and cedar.

“It means the world to me to be able to exist in the place where I grew up. And to be able to open something here that can give people an opportunity to learn more about Indigenous people,” he said.

“When someone walks in the door, and they may not know much about Indigenous people, we can converse. We’re building those relationships. And we’re furthering that bridge that needs to be built so that we can all have such a great future together.”

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