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Phil Fontaine

Phil Fontaine partner in pot production to bring First Nations into medical marijuana industry

By Andrew Russell
Global News
A licensed Canadian pot grower has announced it’s teaming up with the former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), drug Phil Fontaine, look to help give First Nations communities across the country access to medical marijuana.
Cronos Group, formerly PharmaCan Capital, said Tuesday it will launch Indigenous Roots with Fontaine to help First Nations in Canada “invest, operate, and participate in the economic opportunities related to the emerging cannabis industry.
The medical marijuana company said it would work to give people living on and off reserves access to medicinal pot, while also providing jobs in First Nations communities.

“It’s a business opportunity, it’s about jobs, it’s about training, but most importantly it’s about providing services to an under served group in the country,” said Phil Fontaine, CEO of Indigenous Roots. “We are focused on making [access to medical marijuana] more broadly based.”

Cronos, which operates licensed pot producing facilities Peace Naturals Project in Ontario and In The Zone Produce Ltd. in B.C., said it would provide the land, license, intellectual property and engineering expertise to get the new facility off the ground. Cronos will also share operating profits on a 50/50 basis.
The flagship Indigenous Roots facility will be located at Cronos’ B.C. location in the Okanagan Valley. . The company says it intends to consult and work with First Nations communities that are interested in participating.

“At the end of the day we are proving a medicine and it’s important that patients get top quality,” Cronos’ CEO Mike Gorenstein told Global News.

Gorenstein said that the creation of large scale facilities employ dozens of people on a full time basis.

“All the way from the bottom trimmers, to production managers, to client care specialists, marketing, finance, accounting these are large companies that create a number of jobs,” he said.
The Trudeau government has promised to table legislation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in 2017 and a report from a federal task force on pot regulation is expected to be released publicly in December.

The highly anticipated report from the nine member panel is expected to address key questions, including the best minimum age for buying, restrictions around advertising and marketing, as well as taxation and pricing.

Some First Nations have already taken steps to get in on the action.

The Siksika First Nation in Alberta is exploring the possibility of becoming the first medical marijuana producer on indigenous land in Canada. The band, located east of Calgary, has partnered with the LDI Group and applied to Health Canada for a licence to grow medical marijuana.

“It’s certainly on a lot of First Nations’ radar screens in Canada, in the U.S… in North America, quite frankly,” Tom Many Heads, the CEO for Siksika Resource Developments, told Global News in November. “It’s not just about generating income for ourselves, it’s about providing the community with a real sense of ownership, being a real industry player in a real burgeoning opportunity area of industry growth.”

Fontaine served three terms as AFN’s National Chief and knows first-hand the problems high unemployment can have on First Nations communities.

He said the company has spoken with various First Nations groups in several provinces but discussions are still in early stages. Fontaine said the company is taking a “cautious approach” to rolling out the business.

“Our focus will be more than just wealth creation. It’s about creating real job opportunities,” Fontaine said. “We see this as addressing the issue of [uneployment on reserves].”