The sky hasn’t fallen and civil society hasn’t collapsed since Canada ended its national cannabis prohibition in October 2018. Contrary to the warnings by drug warriors, cannabis decriminalization and government regulation has resulted in economic opportunity and empowerment and is generating additional revenue needed to better finance important tribal programs.
Siksika Nation is the latest First Nation to stake a claim in the Green Rush. Via a 50/50 partnership with Kelowna BC-based Frozen Penguin Medical Industries, construction is set to begin this fall on a 25,000 sq. ft. cannabis cultivation and processing facility. Involved with cannabis production since 2013, Frozen Penguin brings invaluable experience to the partnership. Reefer grown at the facility will exclusively help supply Health Canada and none will be diverted for recreational resale at a dispensary.
When complete, the building will be the first purpose-built cannabis production facility constructed on Indigenous land in Canada, according to Siksika Resource Development Ltd. CEO Tom Many Heads. The facility will be located in the same industrial park as SRDL headquarters. Siksika Construction, the construction arm of Siksika Resource Development Ltd. (SRDL), will be given the honour of helping build the infrastructure and erect the structure. No figures are available on the number of construction jobs that will be created, but 50 full-time positions for Siksika Nation members to staff the facilities’ day-to-day cultivation operation will be needed.
The plan is to produce five crop rotations per year that are expected to bring Siksika Nation coffers up to $15 million annually. The band intends to spend the money on social programs like housing and combating the opioid crisis – a catastrophe that is especially hard on Canadian Indigenous communities where many of our young people are succumbing to the deadly outcome of addiction.
The warehouse-type structure will contain a number of grow rooms. Frozen Penguin is working on a new system developed by RotoGro where plants are grown in a barrel-shaped planter and fertilized using a rotating motion. Barrels provide approximately 3.14 times additional grow area when compared to a bed, and this system can increase the yield by as much as twelve times the floor space of a traditional facility. For twelve months, Frozen Penguin has been testing the system at their Kelowna facility, and according to RotoGro CEO Adam Clode, they’re “getting exceptional yields.”
The RotoGro system will help Siksika Nation set the price they need to sell at to stay competitive and turn a profit. That would be good news for Siksika First Nation. According to Roland Bellerose, an advocate for Indigenous participation in the pot business, pricing for recreational sales are quite high and may not be sustainable. “What happens when a country like Columbia starts selling their product at 60 cents a gram?” asks Bellerose.
Siksika Nation’s decision to grow Mary Jane follows that of the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation, who in 2018 retrofitted an 84,000 sq. ft. former bottling plant located on their land and began producing medical and recreational weed. Akwesasne’s pot business is 100 percent band owned and has 75 employees. Business has been good and the band plans to expand to a 100,000 sq. ft. facility in the near future.
Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN), located next to The Pas in Manitoba, is another First Nation community that’s gotten into the weed business. They partnered with National Access Cannabis (NAC), in a 51/49 company ownership split. OCN and NAC focus on the recreational segment of the business and sell their products in NAC’s Meta Cannabis Supply Co. stores. They recently opened a dispensary in the OCN providing jobs for 12 Opaskwayak.
Siksika’s goal is for 100 percent ownership. Though branching out and joining the recreational-use dispensary sector in the future is a possibility, for now they want to learn, develop, and perfect the medicinal cannabis business one step at a time.
Frozen Penguin is in the process of a name change to comply with Health Canada’s strict rules against using animal names to promote products such as cannabis.