By Shari Narine
SIKSIKA FIRST NATION, Alta.
The Siksika First Nation through Siksika Herbz has applied to Health Canada for a licence to grow and harvest medicinal marijuana on the First Nation in southern Alberta.
Application was made in July and Shane Breaker, general manager with Siksika Resource Development Ltd., is hopeful that in the 18 months it will take for the license to be approved, “we’ll be shovel-ready for the operation for the building construction and up and running.”
Siksika Resource Development has joined with LDI Group in a 50-50 joint venture, which creates Siksika Herbz Ltd.
“We partnered with LDI Group to understand the operation in the growing of the product. With LDI Group we’ll navigate how we move forward in the market place with distribution and distribution partners when we get there,” said Breaker.
He said that LDI Group has operations in Kelowna, B.C., and has experience dealing with Health Canada.
“So they bring the expertise of operations to the table. What we’re going to bring is the actual facility and land and location for this. And we’ll learn,” he said. “We’re excited to partner.”
Siksika Herbz Ltd. has committed to fund the $8.2 million, 25,000 square-foot state-of-the-art production and distribution facility to be located within the designated Siksika Industrial Park. Siksika will invest $6 million into the engineer design and construction of the building.
“The Nation is putting all the risk into this operation so we’ll own wholly the building itself and the product,” said Breaker.
LDI Group has secured the funding to file the application and has committed to the operation management.
Dr. Lyle Oberg, who held a variety of Cabinet positions in the Alberta government under a number of PC premiers, will serve as independent chair of Siksika Herbz Ltd. Oberg is with the LDI Group.
Breaker anticipates 30 full-time staff from the First Nation to be employed in all aspects of cultivating, harvesting, and packaging, as well as in the front office and security.
The facility is expected to deliver upwards of $14.4 million in annual revenue from dried cannabis alone, while specialty cannabis products will contribute exponentially to future sales growth.
Medical marijuana production on Siksika First Nation will follow a harm reduction model that focuses on reducing opioid use and alcohol dependency within the community.
Medical marijuana is produced for those who suffer from addictions or if there’s pain relievers a patient’s using that’s not good for the body, said Breaker.
“So as First Nations people, there are a lot of ailments in our communities. In being a front runner in producing medical marijuana it is the hope that we’ll bring light to the potential use for medical marijuana in First Nations communities, other than pills or any kind of substance abuse our communities face.”
Breaker said he is not aware of any other First Nations in Alberta who have applied for medical marijuana licences under Health Canada.
Health Canada’s website lists 36 organizations that are licensed producers of medical marijuana under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations. There are none in Alberta. The majority of producers are in Ontario and BC.
At a medical marijuana conference held recently in Vancouver, Breaker said he met with a number of First Nations, including some from Ontario, which had invested as equity partners in established grow-operations off-nation.
“To my knowledge I’m unclear as to who out there has an application in with Health Canada but as Siksika Nation we want to be very innovative,” he said.
The Wahgoshig First Nation is partnering with the Ontario company DelShen Therapeutics to convert a former forestry operation into a facility that will grow "pharmaceutical grade" marijuana. In British Columbia, the Penticton Indian Band’s development corporation signed a letter of intent to build a marijuana grow facility with cannabis producer Kaneh Bosm BioTechnology.
In New Brunswick, the Maliseet First Nation is working with the American company X-Change Corporation to build a medical marijuana research and treatment facility of 400 hectares on First Nation land.
Health Canada has reported that the medical marijuana industry is expected to exceed $1.2 billion by 2024.