The dispensary, located in Williams Lakes, is a major milestone for Canadian cannabis and First Nations people across the country.
“It has been a very long journey when you look at what we have been through and what the staff has been able to pull together,” Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars tells Black Press Media at the May 6 opening of the state-of-the-art, 7,000-square-foot facility that will allow customers to purchase cannabis directly from the facility where it is being grown.
“They realized this craft cannabis tourism vision model. It’s still a little bit surreal but you can see how pumped they are to showcase it to the public.”
This new farm-to-gate cannabis facility has been two years in the making, as Williams Lake First Nation have been growing their brand, Unity Cannabis, across retail stores in communities like Penticton and Merrit. They are also opening a new facility in Lac La Hache soon. The plan is to keep opening retail stores in the province, all full of cannabis grown in Williams Lake. They plan to be able to harvest their first crop soon.
“It’s not the gold rush that everyone expected it was, but it’s a nice niche little business that provides a revenue stream for WLFN and also provides job opportunities for people not only at WLFN but around the province,” Sellars says.
The plants for the company are supplied by Life Cycle Botanicals, licensed in May 2022. They transplant and grow the plants in five different rooms within the Sugar Cane Cannabis Facility. Each room contains different flavors, strains, aromas, potencies, and pharmaceutical properties, and the rooms are full to the brim with plants.
Master Grower Brendon Roberts relocated from Toronto to work in this special new facility, where he works around the clock to grow the best buds possible. The plants are on a schedule of 12 hours of light, 12 hours of darkness.
“They go to bed at 7 p.m.,” he says.
The facility is still under construction, and soon, a mixed-development building called The Osprey Nest that includes a café, gathering space, and open-concept lofts will also be on-site. The company should begin breaking ground on the new building in the next couple of weeks.
David Coney, B.C.’s director of Indigenous Government Relations BC Cannabis Secretariat, has been working with WLFN and feels this is an important next step for First Nations in the world of cannabis. “It’s fantastic; it’s a beautiful facility,” he says.
However, this didn’t happen without a rocky road forward. WLFN counselor Chris Wycotte opened up about the doubts he had surrounding the plan to open a business like this through and for the First Nations community.
“We had to take it to the community and the community supported it. There was no opposition. Maybe there were some concerns, but no opposition.”
And this isn’t the only good news on the horizon for WLFN. Earlier in May, the First Nations group announced that they intend to hold a referendum on June 29 of this year so that members can vote on a proposed $135 million settlement with the federal government. If the agreement is accepted, a long-standing claim relating to land displacement from the traditional tribal village lands. This happened 160 years ago, so restitution has been a long time coming. As many as 400 members of the 800-plus in the community are eligible to vote.
This new, innovative cannabis facility represents a major milestone for the First Nations communities.