Manitoba will have both public and private retail sales outlets when cannabis is legalized this summer. But with hundreds of applicants for just four master licences for private retailers, the competition is fierce for companies aiming to secure a foothold in the market.
Howah Holdings is one such applicant. An Indigenous-owned corporation, Howah’s senior team hopes that securing a retail licence will grow economic opportunities for Manitoba’s First Nations communities.
The company is headed by members of multiple First Nations in the Manitoba region. Key team members hail from the Sagkeeng First Nation and Peguis First Nation, the company chairperson is a member of the Tseshaht First Nation, and Howah’s CEO, Sam Anderson, is a member of the Dauphin River First Nation who served with the RCMP for 25 years, most recently as the RCMP’s ambassador for aboriginal policing nationally. Howah’s chair, Chauntel Watts, is a member of the Tseshaht First Nation, and her background is in behavioural sciences and cannabis research. She’s focused on the healing properties of plants and aims to preserve the authenticity of First Nations culture.
Business planner Neil Whitesell is a member of Sagkeeng First Nation, and commercial real estate broker Cheryl Kretzmann is a member of the Peguis First Nation. Advisor to Howah is Terrance Nelson, former 5-term Chief of Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation, and former Grand Chief of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization.
“In Saskatchewan the approach is a little bit more open than Manitoba in terms of First Nations getting involved and licensing themselves,” Nelson told Lift. In Saskatchewan, so far three First Nations communities are eligible for private retail licences, and some First Nations groups have taken action to license themselves. “But in Manitoba, it’s more of a liquor-licensing type of approach.”
Nelson pointed the Liquor and Gaming Authority of Manitoba, which he said wasn't able to fairly include Indigenous communities in the casino gaming industry. In October of 2017, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Manitoba’s provincial government, alleging that approval for casinos in populated areas such as Winnipeg were given only to non-First Nation owners, while licensing for First Nations casinos was relegated to more remote areas.
“We’ve got a lot of things that we need to move ahead on,” said Nelson, “and one thing I can tell you very clearly is that First Nations are not going to be left out of the cannabis industry.”
Corporate citizenship and social responsibility
The company’s management team professes having community-centric values, providing integrated programs to educate and encourage responsible cannabis use.
“We want to ensure security and safety, and be involved in the community outreach and social responsibility components as cannabis is legalized,” said Howah’s managing director, Warren Cudney.
Howah has the capability to develop its own social responsibility programs to help educate Manitoban consumers, but will begin by supporting programs offered through organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the DARE program offered internationally through police agencies like the RCMP.
Although the DARE program has created controversy in previous years due to criticisms of ineffectiveness and correlations with negative psychological side-effects, it has since been overhauled with a more nuanced curriculum that addresses its previous criticisms and builds on an experiential approach.
“We really want to find those key community organizations that are offering proper education, and help support what they’re doing,” said Cudney. "We feel the opportunity exists to work together and ensure that we’re all on the same page.”
A safe strategy
In the provincial government’s retail licensing announcement last November, Premier Brian Pallister stated that for the major shift in public policy that is legalization, safety remains the top priority of the province.
That priority is shared by Howah, which has partnered with Spire Secure Logistics, a Canadian firm pioneering specialization in compliance, information technology, and operational security for businesses in the cannabis sector.
Spire is led by CEO Andy Richards, a retired deputy chief constable with 34 years experience in Canadian policing. As deputy chief and member of the BC Association of Chiefs of Police, he was also directly involved in the dialogue with Health Canada regarding cannabis regulations.
“Because of our background,” Richards explained, “we were able to articulate for Howah what exactly an organizational security plan would look like for them—what that would involve, to implement a true organizational personnel security plan.”
According to Howah’s managing director, the partnership with Spire may help not only with presenting a more robust business model for the current application, but for extra-provincial expansion as well.
“We wanted to look at the RFP on the whole, and not just look at the areas we’re best suited for, but also bring in the partners that can best meet all of the criteria,” suggested Cudney. “Not only for the provincial RFP in Manitoba,” he continued, “but also hopefully for any jurisdiction within Canada.”
Cudney said Howah hopes to make applications in all provinces with private and hybrid retail systems, including one of the 60 retail permits recently announced for Saskatchewan.
Pending regulatory approval, Howah plans to roll out four flagship locations in Winnipeg, with the capability to open more locations province-wide.