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Nova Scotia judge rejects constitutional arguments for Indigenous cannabis shops

HALIFAX — A Nova Scotia judge has rejected arguments from four defendants claiming they have treaty and aboriginal rights to sell cannabis at dispensaries on Indigenous land north of Halifax.

In a ruling released Thursday, provincial court Judge Ronda Van der Hoek says she agreed with the Crown’s argument that two expert reports provided by the defendants failed to support their claims, which means they no longer have the option of arguing for exemptions under the Constitution.

In Nova Scotia, sales of cannabis must be conducted from Nova Scotia Liquor Commission outlets, and all cannabis products are subject to provincial and federal duties.

In her decision, the judge says the Supreme Court of Canada has confirmed that two Mi’kmaq treaties granted an aboriginal right to trade, but the top court said that right is limited to items traditionally harvested as part of their hunting, fishing and gathering activities.

Van der Hoek determined the expert reports provided no evidence that cannabis was used or traded by the Mi’kmaq before European contact, and she found there was no mention of the cannabis plant being used other than as hemp.

The defendants had also argued the federal government failed to consult the Mi’kmaq before passage of the Cannabis Act, but the judge said Ottawa’s “duty to consult” Indigenous Peoples does not extend to the enactment of legislation that criminalizes their conduct.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2024.

The Canadian Press