Medicine Wheel expands in new era of cannabis legalization

Medicine Wheel was the first cannabis dispensary to open on Alderville’s “Mashkiki Trail” or “Green Mile.” It is a state-of-the-art dispensary, testing site, and production facility established by Alderville First Nation member Rob Stevenson. Inspired by the growth of cannabis dispensaries in nearby Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Medicine Wheel opened its doors on June 21st, 2017. From the start, Medicine Wheel focussed on high-quality medicinal products provided by a knowledgeable and highly informed staff.Expecting his clientele to be predominantly younger enthusiasts of the “cannabis culture” type, manager Brent Morrison remembers being shocked on opening day. “The people who were coming into the store defied the cannabis stereotype,” Morrison remembers. “Our average clients are in their mid 50s and looking for a safe and reliable source of cannabis to treat their illnesses.”

Nor is the store simply selling cannabis flower. Soon after it was up and running, Medicine Wheel was selling over 40 varieties of cannabis flower and upwards of 200 other cannabis-related products – including tinctures, extracts, ointments and salves.

The inside of the Medicine Wheel flagship store.

Medicine Wheel’s new expansion

Medicine Wheel’s rise has been a case study in the potential and energy of Indigenous entrepreneurship when matched with the dynamic possibilities of the cannabis industry. Rooted in Alderville as a family business located on reserve, the Medicine Wheel staff has expanded to over 30 employees, and is now preparing an ambitious program of growth and expansion to compete in the new era of Canadian cannabis legalization. Broadly speaking, the new initiatives being prepared by Medicine Wheel fall into four categories: communications and education, looking after the people, community organizing, and new products and services.

Treating Ailments through Communication and Education

Ailments and Treatment Guide 2.0.

With cannabis facing over 100 years of stigma and politically-motivated persecution, one of the biggest issues facing the cannabis industry is education. Consequently, Medicine Wheel has prioritized a multi-pronged educational approach to reach current and new customers alike.

Eschewing the “recreational” framework of the Canadian government, everything in Medicine Wheel’s approach comes from a medicinal focus on cannabis. Before purchasing any products, all clients of the store must fill out a form identifying their medical need for cannabis, and all new members receive a 44 page “Ailment and Treatment Guide.” The guide explains dosage and safe use of cannabis and provides an overview of how to treat over 20 different illnesses with cannabis. The guide also includes articles about how to treat pets with CBD, methods of “microdosing” cannabis, and the effects of different cannabis terpenes.  

The Mukwa Botanicals treatment line.

According to Stevenson, “as we collect information from our clients, we’re seeing why people are using cannabis and what ailments they’re treating with it. This guide has arisen from our need to clearly explain the ways in which cannabis can help to address serious medical issues.” The guide has been developed by Medicine Wheel staff using in-house market research and the latest scientific and medical literature on the plant.

Another of Medicine Wheel’s major concerns has been to address the question of how to talk to children about cannabis. After generations of state-sponsored indoctrination that painted cannabis as a negative and harmful “gateway drug,” Medicine Wheel came up with a children’s book to help parents talk about cannabis with their children. Titled Robbie Ladybug and the Mashkiki Patch, the book explains both the positive and negative aspects of cannabis use to children.

The origins of the book came from a dream that Rob’s mother Charlene had of two ladybugs living together on the leaf of a cannabis plant. Ladybugs are a species of insect providing helpful, natural pest control in place of industrial pesticides. The story follows the lady bugs dealing with the stigma they face from other insects due to their line of work in the cannabis patch.

“Robbie Ladybug and the Mashkiki Patch” Medicine Wheel’s new children’t book.

Like Medicine Wheel, this literary endeavour was a family effort. Rob’s mother-in-law Miriam Terry worked with Charlene to write and illustrate the children’s book. The book succeeds in not only helping children to learn about cannabis, but in creating a space for parents to have a dialogue with their children about the plant.

The other major effort around communications is the building of a progressive web application to take the place of Medicine Wheel’s website. The new Medicine Wheel App will work seamlessly on mobile devices and desktop computers to display multi-media content related to all the products and services available at Medicine Wheel.

The core function of the App is a method of self-diagnosis based on the Medicine Wheel. Clients identify the nature of their ailment – be it affecting their mind, body, spirit, or emotions – and click through a medicine-wheel-based “drill down” menu to receive advice and appropriate product recommendations for their needs. The App will carry suggestions about diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices along with product information and a guide to what’s currently available in the store. To help increase store efficiency, the App allows customers to place online orders at the store and then to pick up their order in an express line at the store.

Looking after the people

Medicine Wheel gather to celebrate the store’s first year anniversary.

From its inception, Medicine Wheel has viewed the cannabis industry as much more than a means to make money. As Rob Stevenson puts it, “this is about our whole way of life as Indigenous people. We’re trying to build an economy that increases the ability of Indigenous people throughout Turtle Island to self-determine and prosper.”

At the core of the Medicine Wheel business model is an unwavering commitment to high quality customer service. As such, Medicine Wheel’s staff are crucial to the success of the operation. Stevenson believes that the best way to attract and keep top talent is to compensate individuals who are committed to upholding the core principles of the business. Medicine Wheel employees get annual paid vacation, sick leave, and starting in November 2018, health benefits. Stevenson is calling his health benefits plan the Medicine Wheel Healthy Living Account, because it doesn’t just compensate employees for conventional medical and dental expenses, but also includes activities like sports and arts and culture.

“The Medicine Wheel Healthy Living Accounts represent yet another step in my goal to provide as many supports as possible to people looking to live happy and healthy lives,” says Stevenson. “If someone is showing initiative to help themselves, their family, and their neighbours live happy, healthier lives, than that is someone I want to work with and that is someone I am comfortable representing Medicine Wheel on my First Nation and to the company’s members.”

Another aspect of looking after the people is to provide quality medicines to patients who can’t afford the full cost of their treatment. Medicine Wheel has developed a compassionate pricing system so that people who genuinely need cannabis-based medicines but can’t afford them can apply for subsidized products.

Some clients require greater consultation and support for their special needs or are unfamiliar with all the ways that cannabis can help them with specific health problems. To provide a private space for client support and consultation, the former True North seeds building on the Medicine Wheel property is being converted into a consultation area. New members to the Medicine Wheel will register in this building, and will have the opportunity to have one-on-one consultation to tailor a specific treatment. Existing customers who are looking for more information about using cannabis and making positive lifestyle changes will also be invited to use the consultation resources.

Community organizing in Alderville

On the broader community level, Medicine Wheel has also been very active. The biggest efforts in this regard have gone into the formation of the Mississauga of Rice Lake Cannabis Association and the creation of the Alderville Cannabis Survey. Reaching out to community members and getting accurate feedback and information from the community are central to ensuring that the industry does what the people want. The full results of the survey will be released to the public and forwarded to Band Council on October 15th, 2018.

The biggest issue on the agenda of the Mississauga of Rice Lake Cannabis Association is the thorny issue of determining how to collect and administer a “Community Contribution Fund” from those profiting from the cannabis industry on reserve. The survey will help to decide what community needs should be addressed with the fund, and the next quarterly Association meeting on December 15 will finalize the establishment and administration of the Fund.

As it now stands, the testing facilities of Medicine Wheel and the Healing House have agreed to donate $10 per test to the fund. Plans are also in the works to come up with a special child-proof exit bag for all products sold by Association members. A fee would be charged to each customer for the reusable bag, with the proceeds going to the community fund.

Cannabis and Women

There are a lot of cannabis stigmas that need to be broken, and at the top of Medicine Wheel’s agenda is bringing a stronger focus to cannabis and issues affecting women. As a result, Medicine Wheel is proud to announce a monthly women’s night with special programming and services available to women. As manager Melanie Marsden points out, “we want to do our part to try and change the cannabis stigma as it affects women. We need to show that there are all kinds of different ways that women can benefit from cannabis products. We have specific product lines including facial scrubs, moisturizers, creams, as well as products for treating menstrual cramps and PMS.”

In the new era of Canadian legalization, Stevenson thinks that there will be an influx of women consumers to the industry. That makes it all the more important for Medicine Wheel to take positive steps to support and acknowledge women. “In Indigenous culture, women are held in high regard as the life givers. Men have to do ceremony. Women are ceremony. They have their ceremony once a month. We want to acknowledge that and show our respect to women. By developing product lines specifically geared to women and by holding women’s specific days, we’re acknowledging our women and making them feel more comfortable with using the cannabis products in our store,” says Stevenson.

On women’s day at the Medicine Wheel, the sales staff will be all women, and there will be special activities, product showcases, and educational displays and events. As Melanie Marsden puts it, “It’s not about getting high. It’s about getting healthy. Men will be welcome on those days too. But women and women-identified people will get a 10% discount on those days.”

Language program

A crucial aspect of the Indigenous revival across Canada has been a focus on learning and teaching Indigenous languages. The Canadian residential school system was designed to systematically remove indigenous peoples from their culture and languages, and Medicine Wheel is playing its part to help recover from the damage.

Every Saturday morning Medicine Wheel staff gather at the office for a weekly Ojibway language class taught by Keith Montrell to learn more about indigenous culture and language. As Stevenson says, “we’re working on encouraging the growth of our culture. A big part of the culture is the language. By interacting with each other and our customers, and by using our own language and Ojibway names for our products, we’re making more people aware of our culture and ensuring that it will continue.”

The language program not only helps Ojibway people reconnect with their culture, but also opens up opportunities for learning and reconciliation with non-native people coming to the store. According to Stevenson, “even simple efforts like having an Ojibway “word of the day” display offer opportunities for cultural exchanges in the store that allow non-natives to contribute to the process of reconciliation in a small way.”

New direction and product lines

A view inside the Medicine Wheel store.

Funded by the profits of the cannabis economy, Medicine Wheel is investing in building the physical, cultural and social infrastructure needed to serve the community and to make Alderville a regional hub for cannabis and wellness tourism.

However, in order to remain successful and to accomplish its larger social mandate, Medicine Wheel has to remain profitable, and continue generating the resources to support its staff, benefit the community of Alderville, and empower the larger movement for Indigenous self-determination. That means being able to read the changing economic situation, as non-native Crown-approved cannabis is about to become legal on October 17th. While there won’t be competing off-reserve bricks and mortar stores in Ontario until April of 2019, the new privatized model put in place by the Ford government will undoubtedly mean an increase in competition.

But Stevenson is feeling positive as the October 17th legalization date approaches. “I’m feeling very good” he says. “I’m looking at all our projects and all the good we’re doing. That’s giving me some reassurance. We’re doing a lot of good for our community and our staff, and that’s reducing my stress levels.”

Stevenson believes that with legalization will come a big influx of sales. Already, the store is getting between 200 and 250 new customers a day, and the numbers are going up. Stevenson foresees that Indigenous dispensaries will do well until competition comes from brick and mortar stores in April. Already key retail locations are being bought up for cannabis stores in Cobourg, the nearby town to the south. But Stevenson is not afraid of the new reality. “I think competition is good,” he says. “It keeps people honest and it motivates us to do better moving forward.”

One of those directions that Stevenson wants to move towards is the edibles market. At a newly purchased property on reserve, he’s building an industrial kitchen and bakery. The bakery will be fed by the extraction process, to which most of Medicine Wheels outdoor grows are destined.

The addition of new productive capacity means higher profit margins on economies of scale, more local employment, and an ability to create value-added products. One obvious place for growth is the edibles market. “We’re going to create our own line of health-orientated edibles. They’ll contain less sugar and be made from organic all-natural ingredients, and we’ll have vegan and gluten-free options. Each edible will be strain-specific so you’ll know exactly what’s in it and what it will feel like to consume it. You will have a consistent experience in terms of dose and effect each time you consume one,” says Stevenson. The edibles will also be sold in special child-proof containers with appropriate warnings.

Medicine Wheel is also planning to package its edibles based on their level of effect. Edible usage will be connected to the consultation process where all patients will be informed about the best safety precautions. And if a negative reaction occurs from “greening out” by having too much of an edible, Stevenson wants to have each edible come with a CBD capsule that can be used to clear users’ minds and help them calm down.

The main path for success seen by Medicine Wheel lies in the creation of a vertically-integrated business keeping all aspects of the cannabis plant, from seed to sale, in Indigenous hands. This entails co-ordinating all the moving parts of the Smoke Signals Seed Bank, the building of new greenhouses and the planting and harvesting of outdoor grows. It also involves the running of an industrially-sized extraction laboratory, the creation of an industrial kitchen and bakery to mass-produce edibles, and the necessary quality control, logistics, and testing equipment to ensure patient safety.

Because of the coming competition from Licensed Producers (LPs) backed by hundreds of millions of dollars of venture capital, Stevenson expects a sharp drop in the profitability of the industry, especially in the sale of cannabis flower and oils. Already a number of LPs are working on plans to import cannabis products grown in Uruguay, Jamaica, and Columbia.

This has meant a focus on investing in the extraction and testing equipment that can allow Medicine Wheel to produce its own oils, extracts, and nano-emulsified products. By bringing together talented chefs and the capacity of an industrial kitchen, Medicine Wheel will be able to produce cannabis-infused sauces, salad dressings, energy bars, and many other edibles with a much higher profit margin then they could make selling cannabis flower in competition with the tropical imports of the cannabis multinationals.

The idea is to build a whole new host of Medicine Wheel brands which can not only be sold in Alderville, but also be traded with other Indigenous nations and sold in their dispensaries. These brands will go through the Red Feather certification process that ensures that a given cannabis product was made by Indigenous people, without the use of pesticides and herbicides, and that it has undergone a quality-control testing process. The certification also means that the majority of the ingredients of a given product were sourced and manufactured Indigenously, and that a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the product are returned to an Indigenous community through a voluntary donation program.

The new brand that Medicine Wheel will be bringing out will be known as “Ishkode Mashkiki” – meaning “fire medicine from the heart of the earth” in the Ojibway language. The Ishkode Mashkiki line is now being diversified into concentrates like shatter, oils, rosins, and specialized nano-emulsified products. The aim is to create a top-quality medicine. As Stevenson says “We’re taking our time, and we’re not going to rush. We have to create the cleanest possible medicine that we can.. With our new state-of-the-art extraction equipment we’re getting into new products and specialized terp sauces, resins, and diamonds.”

Before purchasing a High Performance Liquid Chromatography machine and Mass Spectrometer, Medicine Wheel couldn’t test edibles or MCT-based tinctures. Now with the new lab equipment, “we can test everything, even identify the different traits of each cannabis strain,” Stevenson says.

Stevenson wants to have “20 different types of cannabis oils based on the different terpene profiles of the strains. We want to be able to fine tune and match our oils to the needs of our customers. We can tell from the terpene and cannabinoid profile what works for people and then give them a variety of healthy ways to ingest them.“

Lifestyle design and wholistic treatment

A view of Rice Lake from the Wheel House.

In this new stage of Medicine Wheel’s journey, cannabis is the economic driver for the creation of a whole new variety of healthier lifestyles. As Stevenson explains, “We’re diversifying away from the treatment-type focus and working more towards a conscious lifestyle design. It’s all about expanding horizons with your lifestyle and changing your life to be healthier in the broadest possible way.”

That means a move towards hosting gatherings and seminars and teachings. In this work Rob is working with Cobourg-based lifestyle designer Melanie Woolsey. Woolsey is a yoga teacher and dancer who became addicted to opiates, but who used cannabis to get off them. Her plan is to expose people to practices of conscious lifestyle design. The programming will be made freely accessible for all Alderville First Nations members, but will also draw paying clients from Toronto to do healing through art and crafts, cooking, baking, language, work in the garden, and daily retreats, all in a cannabis-friendly atmosphere. A building has been purchased to serve as a retreat centre, and as Stevenson says with conviction, “we’re going to put Alderville on the map as a destination for health tourism.”

While Stevenson acknowledges that there are many treatment facilities in the surrounding area, they don’t necessarily do a lot of follow-up and after-care for their patients. This is something Medicine Wheel wants to do to help people deal with lifestyle changes and learn how to better handle their money.

It’s all about diversifying the health and wellness services provided by Medicine Wheel, and of continuing to move forward in a good direction.

In that regard, Stevenson can point to the fact that in making over 100,000 transactions to over 15,000 registered members of Medicine Wheel, no one has gotten sick or been harmed by the products he has sold. This shows that cannabis is a far safer plant than the government would have you believe. Not only that, but it illustrates that ordinary people with good intentions and a drive to help others can change the world in some pretty significant ways.

Every day that Medicine Wheel stays open is a benefit to an ever-widening population. Of course the owners and the workers of the store are benefiting from Medicine Wheel’s success. And so are the hundreds of patients receiving relief from medicinal cannabis and exploring new avenues of healing and personal growth. The local economy, native and non-native, is thriving from the ancillary effects of the cannabis industry, and money and jobs are staying local.

Another possibility that shouldn’t be underestimated is for the cannabis industry on reserve to facilitate reconciliation – a hot topic in Canada these days.

As Brent Morrison puts it, “I’ve learned a lot from relating to indigenous people in this work. I didn’t learn much in school about this reality. I’ve always been a sympathetic ally, but now I’m much more passionate about it. I feel like Native sovereignty is a real thing that should be actively enforced. And I think the Canadian government should 100% respect Native sovereignty over any business activity or foreign investment that might interfere with that.”

Such an understanding seems logical and second nature to Morrison, and the reason is clear. It’s a no-brainer for everyone involved that the sovereignty being expressed by the people of Alderville in running and self-regulating the cannabis industry on their own terms has improved the lives of everyone who’s come in contact with it.

Morrison continues, “pretty much everyone who comes to the store leaves with a positive experience. They’re coming to a nice warm friendly dispensary with knowledgeable staff, the majority of whom are native people. They’re having this interaction and leaving with a positive feeling. And it’s producing a positive relationship dynamic. For example, people are looking at the art we have in the store and asking questions. And we send them out to local art galleries and native businesses where they can see and purchase other art and connect with the culture through that experience.”

The indigenous cannabis revolution is putting down strong roots in Alderville First Nation. And with this kind of success, we should not be surprised to see its example spread to other First Nations too.

Medicine Wheel Natural Healing is located in Alderville First Nation at 8986 County Rd. 45 Roseneath K0K 2X0 just off of Highway 45, near the town of Roseneath. They are open 10am-8pm, Tuesday through Sunday and closed on Mondays. You can call us at 905-352-3322. The full Medicine Wheel menu is available online at  Leafly.com

 

From the land, to the people: introducing Mukwa Botanicals

By Smoke Signals Media

ALDERVILLE FIRST NATION – From salves and lip balms to tinctures and vape pens, Mukwa Botanicals now offers a wide range of indigenous sourced and indigenous made cannabis products. After the official product launch to be held on Saturday, February 24th from 1-4pm at Medicine Wheel Natural Healing, the Mukwa Botanicals line will be available at indigenous cannabis dispensaries across Ontario.

Mukwa means bear in the Ojibway language. In Anishinaabe culture, the bear represents courage, strength, and leadership and the bear clan is traditionally tasked with providing medicines for the people. Mukwa Botanicals was created by Rob Stevenson, an Anishinaabe man of the Bear Clan, who owns Medicine Wheel Natural Healing in Alderville First Nation. Rob identified the need for an Indigenous brand of cannabis products that would uphold the Seven Grandfather Teachings that underpin the core philosophy of Medicine Wheel Natural Healing.

Rob Stevenson speaks with a reporter in Medicine Wheel Natural Healing.

“We’re community-focused,” says Stevenson. “I’m trying to put us in a position to develop the indigenous cannabis industry as a whole, not just for myself but for all the different communities that want to take this path.”

The Mukwa Botanical brand is “developed by Indigenous people, for Indigenous people,” Stevenson emphasizes, indicating that ‘Mukwa’ is a reference to his own identity in belonging to the bear clan. “It encompasses all of what we’re trying to do: using products that are made by indigenous people, majority-sourced from Indigenous people, and we are putting a portion of the profits back to the community.”

Some of the products that Mukwa Botanicals will feature at the launch include rechargeable vape pens that vary in CBD and THC content, from all CBD, to mixed, to mostly THC. Other products include tinctures and essential oils, and soon organic edibles will be added to the product line.

Mukwa Botanicals tincture line.

Essential to the Mukwa brand is the way the medicine is extracted, a method that favours using the entire plant’s spectrum rather than employing isolates or distillates to separate its various psycho and non-psychoactive contents. The idea, Stevenson explains, is to maintain the plant’s full terpene profile, which then creates an “entourage effect” that works much better on the body.

“So we’re trying to create a more holistic environment, because it’s not just about money,” Stevenson said. “We’re really trying to educate people. Again, it’s not just the THC numbers and products; there’s a heck of a lot more to the plant than just the THC – and that’s what we want to focus on.”

As the medicinal cannabis industry grows, more people are beginning to see the true potential of the plant. Its medicinal value is rapidly coming to be accepted even by the western health system. But it will be a while longer before all the stigma is removed from the plant and those that choose to use it are able to do so freely. Rob hopes that what he is doing at Medicine Wheel and with Mukwa Botanicals will help bridge that gap and, in doing so, give Indian Country a much needed economic boost.

And that cannot be understated. As Rob explained, economic independence – whether it’s from medicinal cannabis or any other industry – is essential for political independence.

Medicinal cannabis “is an opportunity for us to get off the coattails of the government and to become self sustaining again,” he said. “What I’d like to see is non-interference. I understand there will be some kind of need to work with the government, but I think it should be up to each individual community to decide how to proceed. Now there’s the opportunity to get on board and make something of this opportunity.”

Medicine Wheel Natural Healing is located at 8986 County Road 45, in Alderville First Nation. The Mukwa Botanicals launch will be held all day on Saturday, February 24 at the Medicine Wheel store from 1-4pm. Visit Mukwa Botanicals at www.mukwabotanicals.com

 

“This is the future” – Medicine Wheel Natural Healing

The revolution in natural Indigenous healing associated with the cannabis plant has taken another significant step forward. Readers may be familiar with the booming medical cannabis industry in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, where there has been an explosive growth of Indigenous run cannabis dispensaries.

That movement has inspired Rob Stevenson, an Anishinaabe man of the Bear Clan belonging to the Alderville First Nation, to launch his own business – the first Indigenous medical cannabis dispensary outside of Tyendinaga – on June 21, 2017.

Medicine Wheel Natural Healing offers a wide range of products. This includes an array of different cannabis flowers including sativa, indica, and many specialized hybrids. The store also has different kinds of shatter, rosin, oil, distillates, gummies, tinctures, syrups, and vape pens. They also have an assortment of different edibles.

Stevenson also wants to bring in other natural indigenous medicines such as bear grease to the store. As he puts it, “It’s all about being natural – and this is much more than just about cannabis – we want to be all encompassing about all natural health issues.”

Although the grand opening celebration and the party are yet to come (stay tuned for details), Stevenson did a ‘soft launch’ for the facility – located at 8986 County Road 45 Roseneath K0K 2X0 in Alderville First Nation – on June 21, 2017.

 Inside on opening day

A family affair

The 21st of June is an auspicious day for Stevenson, not only because it is the summer solstice and National Aboriginal Day, but also because it is his birthday. The 37-year old’s tight knit family were present for the occasion, and are very supportive of his endeavour.

Rob’s mother Charlene works for a local woman’s shelter. She is proud of the work that her son is doing. With her daughter working as a physiotherapist, and with her son establishing the clinic, Charlene knows that her family is committed to helping their community to heal. As she puts it, Rob’s latest effort is about “healing the community and making us better as a whole – in mind, body, and spirit.”

Rob’s father Glen runs the family business, Stevenson Building Products, and has spent the last several months working with his son to completely renovate the new home of Medicine Wheel. Glen is also a big believer in his son’s cause.

Launching into an impassioned description of the benefits of the cannabis plant, Glen stated that, “sharing of knowledge and information is really what it’s all about. We’re coming out of the dark ages; cannabis has been suppressed for too long. I think if people take the time to research the plant, they will find that it provides huge benefits for human beings. Education and talking about it will take the stigma away.”

Glen added, “This plant should be respected. There are so many ways it can help people from making fiber, building products, plastics, etc. These are exciting times, to say the least.”

The results of Glen and Rob’s work in renovating the new facility is remarkable. The Medicine Wheel building is a brightly lit and spacious chalet with big windows and a decidedly clean and modern look and feel. The two main interior walls are made with dry stack Fusion Stone which gives the inside a natural feeling of protection and safety. The building itself has been carefully renovated to meet all security concerns. Indeed, aside from Tim Barnhart’s new headquarters for Legacy 420 in Tyendinaga, Medicine Wheel is hands down the best looking and most professional cannabis dispensary in ‘Indian country.’

Medicine wheel outdoor sign
The entrance to the Medicine Wheel store.

Origins of the business

Stevenson has long had an interest in the cannabis plant and its healing properties. In the fall of 2016, he was in the process of establishing the Smoke Signals Seed Bank specializing in high-grade cannabis seeds.

Then Stevenson caught wind of what the Mohawks were doing in Tyendinaga. In January of 2017, Stevenson saw the invite to the founding meeting of the National Indigenous Medical Cannabis Association. Intrigued by the group’s mandate of encouraging “the self-regulation of the Indigenous Medical Cannabis Industry through the application of Indigenous political and economic principles,” he decided that he had to come and see for himself.

Because the Canadian government showed no willingness to consult Indigenous peoples about their upcoming proposals for cannabis legalization, NIMCA decided that it wouldn’t wait around for Canadian approval, and proceeded proactively on the basis of Indigenous rights.

Energized by meeting with some 40 other Indigenous people looking for ways that cannabis as a plant could benefit their communities, Stevenson became active with the group and was soon nominated to a position as the Ontario Vice President of the Indigenous Medical Cannabis Association.

In that role, Stevenson worked to distil some guidelines and best practices from dispensaries already operating in Tyendinaga and learned as much as he could from the Tyendinaga dispensary model pioneered by Tim Barnhart and Legacy 420.

Stevenson wants everything in his business to be above ground and legitimate. Coming from a lifetime of activity with a successful family construction business, and surrounded by a great group of highly motivated and talented employees from his community, Stevenson is hoping to create a model that other indigenous people can use in their medical cannabis efforts.

“Anyone else who opens up a dispensary on this reserve, or any other reserve, I’m glad to share any of my information here. I’m documenting everything I’ve done, from security and renovations to training employees, product education and all that stuff. I’m willing to share all this information at no cost with the people willing to do this. The reason being, I want to see this done right, and I don’t want dispensaries to be seen in a negative light because people are doing them wrong.”

Stevenson wants to see the industry grow, and he welcomes competition and even the growth of other dispensaries in his home community. “There’s more than enough for every single person in my community to find opportunities to benefit from this industry and all of its related domains,” points out Stevenson.

Stevenson is also making sure that his new business is a win-win operation for the community. He notes that “we’ve hired seven full-time employees that reside on this reserve. We’re also giving a percentage of our profits back directly to the community by supporting different events, and contributing towards our local woman’s shelter and youth groups.”

Before he opened the store, Stevenson made a PowerPoint presentation to his local Band Council outlining the framework under which he was operating. According to Stevenson, “I’ve had a good acknowledgment of what we’re doing by Chief and Council, they are very supportive of it. I made a presentation to them outlining everything we wanted to do, our practices and protocols, and it was met with a lot of respect from Band Council. I made them aware of a lot of the benefits of cannabis that people may not know about.”

rob with customer form
Rob Stevenson explains how the registration form works.

Protocols and Procedures

Before a customer can buy any product, they must first go to Medicine Wheel’s “consultation counter.” At the counter, they meet with a staff person and are required to fill out a one-page form about their medical history and relationship to cannabis. After identifying their need for cannabis, customers are provided with a membership card. The card is scanned into the point-of-sale system with all purchases, and this allows Medicine Wheel and the customer to track and monitor their medical progress. This could result in either increasing dosage or changing strains or using different products altogether.

All medical materials are kept in the strictest confidence. The aim, as Rob Stevenson puts it, is to “keep records of customers and what conditions they may have. We work with customers in consultations and keep track of what the different effects of the different strains are.”

Medicine Wheel’s primary incentive is not profit but helping people. Aware that they are functioning in the era of a new information technology economy, Stevenson seeks to operate their store on the cutting edge of medical technology.

That means using the internet as a learning tool, and seeking out “the cannabis experts emerging from the underground” as Glen puts it. The keeping of medical data and records for their patients, and using that medical data to help people and to advance what to date is an understudied field of medical learning, is a key part of this practice.

Rob Stevenson drives the point home. “We’re trying to set the standard. We are trying to show that you don’t need to be greedy and hoard all kinds of money. Put it back in the community. You get much more satisfaction by giving back to the community. You get to help people – and you really can’t ask for more satisfaction than that.”
The Medicine Wheel Healing Centre is located on Alderville First Nation 8986 county road 45 Roseneath K0K 2X0 just off of Highway 45, near the town of Roseneath. The Alderville First Nation is located on the south shore of Rice Lake. Peterborough is on the North side of the lake, Oshawa is to the west, and Coburg and Port Hope are due south on Highway 45. The store is open 11am-7pm, Tuesday through Sunday and closed on Mondays. Call anytime at (905) 352-3322.