The Legacy Grows: Medical Cannabis in Tyendinaga

By Tom Keefer

TYENDINAGA MOHAWK TERRITORY – Business is booming at Legacy 420, Tyendinaga’s first medical cannabis dispensary. Day after day, from morning until night, the parking lot and storefront at 5965 Old Hwy 2 in Tyendinaga is packed with customers looking to purchase medical marijuana to treat their ailments. According to owner Tim Barnhart, most of his customers are coming from off reserve, and they largely consist of a mature clientele, many of whom are suffering from significant health problems. For them, the fact that Barnhart’s store is a short drive from Highway 401, one of Canada’s busiest highways, makes it convenient and accessible, given how few medical marijuana dispensaries there currently are outside of Canada’s big cities.

With marijuana legalization in Canada expected in the spring of 2017, Barnhart’s business is one of hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries that have sprung up across Canada in the last year. By treating access to medical cannabis as a human right, Barnhart and many other grassroots entrepreneurs like him have made it possible for an increasing number of Canadians to access medical grade cannabis and exercise what courts have deemed a constitutional right to treat themselves.

Legacy 420 owner Tim Barnhart points out some features in his new building.

What distinguishes Barnhart’s efforts from many others is that his business is located in the Mohawk community of Tyendinaga, and that he sees the cannabis plant as a powerful economic stimulus that could enable indigenous communities to finally break with the legacy of Canadian colonialism and rebuild their own economies on their own terms.

When hemp production was criminalized in 1923 in Canada, its production and sale was forced underground. Especially since the 1970s – when smoking the plant became popular – that has meant that most production has taken place through small scale personal growing or the efforts of organized crime. And with marijuana consumption rapidly growing, the Canadian government now estimates that the black market production of marijuana is bringing in an estimated $7 billion a year in income.

Governments and corporate interests want their piece of this massive underground economy, and this is the real reason behind the Trudeau government’s push for legalization. And while finalized plans for cannabis legalization have yet to be fully announced, early signs indicate that government regulations will benefit the big pharmaceutical and agro-industrial companies which are poised to take over the fledgling medical cannabis industry once it is legalized. The preferred Canadian government solution is a “factory” model of growing, in which only those with deep pockets, ties to the existing system, and millions of dollars of investment capital can afford to compete.

Legacy 420 owner Tim Barnhart opens the gate to his new building in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.

But Barnhart has visions for an alternative medical Cannabis industry controlled by neither organized crime or big pharma. He wants indigenous peoples on reserves across Canada to become major players in growing medical cannabis on reserve and for indigenous people to build multiple industries that will allow them to benefit from every aspect of this versatile plant’s gifts.

As Barnhart puts it, “The medical cannabis industry provides native peoples with a way of being self reliant. There’s no doubt in my mind that if all native people worked together this could be something massive for our people.” While the most obvious target market for a native owned and operated medical cannabis industry would be the steady stream of non-natives who are already coming to purchase their tax-free cigarettes and gas on reserve, Barnhart has even bigger dreams of selling native cannabis on the global market.

“With our comparative advantages, we would literally beat the factory model. We could start shipping it internationally. The factories [licensed by Canada] already ship their product to Asia and Brazil and are allowed to ship it internationally. As indigenous people we have always traded internationally, and since we did so pre-confederation, so why can’t we do it now?”

The entrance to the new 420 Legacy building in Tyendinaga.

With recognition of the independent economic rights of Indigenous peoples enshrined in international legal frameworks like the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Barnhart’s views aren’t just pie in the sky. According to Article 20 of the UN declaration:

“Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and develop their political, economic and social systems or institutions, to be secure in the enjoyment of their own means of subsistence and development, and to engage freely in all their traditional and other economic activities.”

Such a legal framework clearly indicates that Indigenous people can no longer be stopped from developing their own institutional and political frameworks to build and grow their own economies. In 2014, Barack Obama let it be known that US federal authorities would no longer interfere with medical marijuana grown on US Reserves as long as they complied with state regulations and protocols for medical marijuana. This decision has led to over 100 US native tribes taking steps to begin medical marijuana initiatives. And with some 23 US states having already legalized medical marijuana, and more including Colorado, Washington DC, and California having legalized recreational use as well, it is clear to many indigenous nations that the time is now for investment in the medical marijuana industry.

On the Canadian side of the border, the push to medical marijuana is similarly strong. Major tobacco producers out of Six Nations have been linked to major investments in medical cannabis production on US Native reserves. As the CBC reports, the Wahgoshig First Nation in Ontario, the Penticton Indian Band in British Columbia, and the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick are all involved in multi-million dollar medical marijuana initiatives. Even Phil Fontaine, the former Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, is getting in on the game, as he is now heading up a new medical marijuana initiative.

Barnhart is putting his money where his mouth is. He is giving back to the community (he donated $10,000 in cash to the food bank this Christmas season) and he is ploughing the profits from his business right back into further expansion on reserve. Barnhart grew and sold over 1000 plants outdoor on his land in Tyendinaga last year. From that revenue he is building a new 7500 square feet retail store that 420 Legacy will be moving into in February of 2017. He is also building greenhouses and purchasing land to grow medical cannabis on an even bigger scale.

Legacy 420 owner Tim Barnhart stands beside one of the two sea containers that he filled with medical marijuana grown on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory last year.

Barnhart says he grew some 1000 plants in Tyendinaga in 2016, and that it was enough to completely fill two 40 foot shipping containers. “We got one crop in by May 24th long weekend. That crop paid for that road and this building. Now the police can’t say we’re using organized crime to enrich ourselves. No, we’re using our own supply. This is our marijuana that we grew with our own hands, in our own soil. Here we don’t need it [organized crime]. There’s too many of us with too much knowledge and too much ambition.”

Barnhart wants to put that knowledge and ambition to work in building training and certification programs for workers in the Indigenous medical cannabis field. His new building has dedicated space for classroom and training facilities.

“In the new building we’re going to start having courses and seminars to teach people how to grow and propagate the plants. We’re going to try and spur their imagination and get them excited and into the cannabis industry. There’s so many areas of this industry that people can specialize in. If you teach them the right way and show them how to do it, there’s opportunities for everybody.”

Barnhart sees the medical cannabis industry as a tide that will lift all boats, and he wants to take a different approach than the one followed by the indigenous tobacco industry which he thinks has failed to adequately give back to the community. One of the top concerns for Barnhart is adequate compensation for workers in the medical cannabis industry.

Barnhart notes that those working with him at Legacy 420 are making good money. “We pay $15 an hour to start. We’ve got folks making $50,000 – $70,000 a year depending on their experience. It’s a serious trade. Everyone has to have a certain amount of experience if you’re going to succeed, and you have to pay a living wage.”

Expect to hear more from Barnhart in 2017. He is working with a group of other native growers and sellers of medical cannabis to create an Indigenous Medical Cannabis Association to advocate for native interests and to encourage self-regulation of their industry. For more information about Barnhart and Legacy 420, please check out their Facebook page, call them at 613-969-1849, or drop by the storefront (located at 5965 Old Hwy 2 in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.

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13 Responses

  1. Matthew mcdknell says:


  2. Peggy-Jean Paige says:

    I’ll be coming in to talk to you soon again. The product I purchased from you? I turned into tinctures for my husband who was put on oxygen FOR LIFE.
    7 months later. He only uses oxygen for sleeping and during the day if he goes to hard to fast. 95%of his waking hours ? No oxygen. His resporoligest. ? Baffled. His GP? Says impossible. Well….. we’ve proved them wrong.
    It was because I had your reliable shop to purchase the strain I needed for his tinctures that my husband’s doing so well. .and we’re not done yet.
    Thank you Tim. I’m your forever fan.

  3. debe says:

    I can’t wait to see the new 420 Tim. Great work.

  4. Ruth Whalen says:

    One of my good friends has went from being drugged up on morphine, Deladid, and many other medications to being able to live life to the fullest again. She makes her own brownies from the strain that works for her and she no longer takes all those drugs from the pharmaceutical. No she is not totally pain free but she gets much better relief and is living a life again instead of living in a sedated fogged state!

  5. megan argue says:

    Thank you for this essential service.

  6. Ron Ireland says:

    The 10k donation to the food bank is amazing. Congrats on the expansion.

  7. Donna says:

    I love the way you think ! Not only are you a self sufficient business, you are also creating valuable jobs and teaching people how to grow their own medicinal marijuana ! Best of all you are helping so many people with medical problems !!
    Very impressive…keep up the great work !

  8. Deb says:

    All I can say is, ‘awesome’!

  9. Mary Phillips says:

    We visited your store today,we had never been in this type of store ever. The variety was amazing. Hoping to get off all these meds i take for cancer and other complaints. I congratulate you.with a Big Well Done. You are also helping the Native people be self sufficient and have pride in what they are doing to better themselves. BIG HIGH FIVE. We will ve back. May i say you Staff where amazing and Truly helpful.

  10. Mike Baranik says:

    I have been to Legacy 420 many times . The service is second to none . Tim & his staff are caring , respectful & empathetic . I highly recommend Legacy 420 !

  11. wade says:

    Tim and his staff are great, been there several times, love the rock star and lemon haze, unfortunately i am on disability and cannot make regular trips from Kingston. i have melanoma cancer, it is in my lung and liver, i want so much to go on the oil treatment, 60 grams for 3 months is the rick Simpson program. it takes a lb of bud to produce 60 to 70 grams of oil, given the prices most people charge for oil i am looking at 3800 dollars, for 3 months. a lb of weed sells for roughly 1500 to 2500 dollars so those prices are rediculous but, even so i am unable to afford the cheaper price. i want to work for this if possible, i grew my own for almost 15 years before i lost my grow property to thieves 6 years ago, i only grew personal, a few plants the bud i am looking for is high in thc, as this works best on cancer. i have 8 months of treatment left and then that’s it nothing more can be done for me, im in my 4th year of fighting this cancer, i had 5 operations to remove tumours and frankly my body is sore now from all the cutting. i am a single dad of a teenager and she does not want to lose her dad. if anyone can help me please let me know

  12. wade says:

    went to the store couple days ago, got some Lemon Haze, very disappointing, somebody did not take the time to flush properly and now I got junk because it wont burn, was really hoping it was being organically grown but obviously it isn’t, you need to flush properly over a 2 to 3 week period to get the chemicals out of the plant that you feed them with. I will be back but I cant afford the medicine if it isn’t going to burn so I will chalk this up as an oversight during the flushing stage and give them another chance, I like the store and the people so

  13. Betty Herbin says:

    My sister has stage 3 lung cancer, extrely underweight, and cannot get any treatments. Do you have something that can help her?

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