Cannabis Legal Reform

Is UNDRIP compliance mere puffery?

Cannabis Legal Reform

In 2019, British Columbia took a commendable step by passing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA), affirming the application of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to the laws of B.C. However, despite this promising move, B.C.’s legal and regulatory framework for cannabis continues to fall short of aligning with UNDRIP and DRIPA. This article explores B.C.’s shortcomings in delivering long-promised
cannabis reform.

DRIPA signifies B.C.’s commitment to upholding the principles outlined in UNDRIP, an international declaration that establishes crucial standards for safeguarding the rights, dignity and wellbeing of Indigenous peoples worldwide. Further, DRIPA mandates the provincial government to develop an “Action Plan.” The Action Plan, released in March 2022, outlines steps the province will take to fulfil the objectives of UNDRIP. With 89 “action items” slated for completion by 2027, the plan targets several issues, including cannabis-related governance and jurisdiction.

Of note, action item 4.47 provides that the province must, in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples:

“Advance a collaborative approach to cannabis-related governance and jurisdiction between First Nations and the Province that reflects common objectives to protect youth, prioritize public health and safety, strengthen First Nations governance capacity and secure economic benefits for First Nations.”

B.C.’s commitment to advancing a collaborative approach in the cannabis industry represents a crucial step toward incorporating Indigenous perspectives. However, the progress on the ground paints a different picture. Despite the promising commitment, B.C. has made little headway in amending its cannabis legislative and regulatory regime to align with UNDRIP. The province’s failure to meet the expectations outlined in DRIPA are particularly glaring considering DRIPA was enacted over four years ago.

The sluggish pace of change raises concerns about the sincerity of the province’s commitment to meaningful cannabis reform. While action item 4.47 envisions collaborative governance, the lack of tangible progress leaves a gap between aspirations and reality. Indigenous communities still encounter obstacles that hinder their involvement in the cannabis sector, undermining the principles of UNDRIP and the economic and self-government rights articulated therein.

Specifically, the current regulatory framework fails to recognize the inherent rights and jurisdiction of First Nations over their traditional territories, rights that extend to self-determination concerning cannabis regulation within these territories. To fulfil its obligations under DRIPA and UNDRIP, B.C. must amend cannabis laws to uphold First Nation jurisdiction across all facets of cannabis regulation, from licensing and retail sale to taxation and revenue sharing.

The foundation of this reform must stem from the laws and legal orders of First Nations. It is imperative for cannabis legislation to create the jurisdictional space necessary for First Nations governments to engage in and reap benefits from the cannabis industry on equal footing with their provincial and federal counterparts.

B.C.’s journey toward aligning its cannabis regulations with UNDRIP and DRIPA is fraught with challenges and disappointments. While the province has demonstrated a commitment on paper, the lack of substantial progress is alarming. B.C. must accelerate its pace of reform, actively involve Indigenous communities in decision-making processes, and uphold Indigenous legal orders. Only through genuine collaboration and commitment can B.C. create a cannabis industry that truly reflects the principles of UNDRIP and the spirit of reconciliation.       

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