Former AFN chief Phil Fontaine to lead new medicinal cannabis company

Phil Fontaine, the former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is teaming up with Cronos Group to create a new business called Indigenous Roots that aims to grow new jobs in aboriginal communities across the country.

The plan is to build licensed production facilities that employ First Nations members and provide medical cannabis to the community’s patients.

“Indigenous Roots sought a reputable partner that demonstrated a commitment to supporting First Nations and other indigenous peoples at a socially conscious level,” said Fontaine. “Cronos was selected because they believe in the same core values and understand that our people need access to the best medical treatments available. We are committed to working with First Nations agencies in every region towards developing a solution that provides our patients access to insured cannabis medication.”

Fontaine’s third term as AFN’s National Chief ended in 2009. The newly minted CEO of Indigenous Roots has first-hand knowledge of the unemployment crisis facing many First Nations communities and said the company has spoken with indigenous groups across the country but discussions are still in the early stage.

Cronos, formerly known as PharmaCan Capital, owns Peace Naturals Project in Ontario and In The Zone Produce in British Columbia, which between them produce about 260 kilos (5,700 lbs) of cannabis each year. Under the agreement, Cronos will build the first Indigenous Roots facility on land it owns in the Okanagan Valley. It will also provide intellectual property, engineering and training. Indigenous Roots and Cronos say they will split the profits 50-50.

The federal government has promised to legalize the recreational use of cannabis in 2017 and a report from a special task force on how best to move forward is expected to be released to the public later this month. The report from the nine-member panel is expected to key questions surrounding the minimum age for consumption, restrictions with advertising, as well as taxation and pricing.

At least one First Nation band is already getting ready for the end of pot prohibition. The Siksika First Nation in Alberta is looking into becoming the first medical marijuana producer on indigenous land in the country. The band has partnered with the LDI Group and applied to Health Canada for a license to grow medicinal cannabis in a 25,000-sq.-ft. facility planned for industrial park east of Calgary.