N.W.T. gov’t has working group, but no clear answers, on legal marijuana

Jimmy Thomson | CBC News | April, 25, 2017

It’s still unclear how legal marijuana will be handled in the N.W.T., after the federal legislation was introduced earlier this month, giving broad powers to the provinces and territories.

It’s up to each jurisdiction to figure out how and where marijuana will be sold — and the minimum age for buyers — but those details are far from being decided at the territorial level.

“We got the legislation the same day as the public,” said Andrew Livingstone, communications advisor to the cabinet.

“We didn’t get it in advance.”

A territorial working group was set up in the fall to iron out some of the details.

The group includes members from the Department of Justice; health and social services; finance; education, culture and employment; Infrastructure; Municipal and Community Affairs; as well as the Workers Safety and Compensation Commission, but the group’s work thus far has been quiet.

Livingstone said in an email that the government will be seeking input from the public on some aspects of its plans.

The federal government plans to have its legislation come into effect by July 1, 2018.

Dehcho Grand Chief Herb Norwegian thinks it is deliberately leaving some of the most contentious and complicated parts of the legalization process up to their provincial and territorial counterparts.

“The federal government is pulling a Pontius Pilate by washing their hands of it and letting ‘the people’ deal with it,” he said.

Joint liquor store sales

One of the questions that remains is who will sell marijuana in small communities with limited retail options.

The Ontario government says it’s considering selling marijuana through liquor stores, and in B.C., the provincial liquor store chain has indicated its interest in doing so as well.

But in dry communities in the N.W.T. that wouldn’t be an option.

MLA Tom Beaulieu, who represents the alcohol-restricted community of Dettah as well as the dry community of Lutsel K’e, says he would like to see marijuana sold in separate stores “very similar to how they distribute alcohol” in communities where there are no liquor stores.

Tom Beaulieu

MLA Tom Beaulieu, who represents the alcohol-restricted community of Dettah as well as the dry community of Lutsel K’e, says he would like to see marijuana sold in separate stores.

The territory could also decide to allow existing stores in the communities, like the Northern or Co-op stores, to sell marijuana, but those stores are awaiting word from the government on what their rules would be.

A spokesperson for the North West Company, which runs Northern and Northmart stores, says the company is not ruling it out.

Arctic Co-operatives Limited says its independent owners will likely discuss the matter at its upcoming general meeting in May.

Whatever the system ends up being, Yellowknife city councilor Julian Morse says he would like to see “clear legislation from the territorial government that isn’t overly restrictive.

“I think that this could potentially be a positive business opportunity,” he says, adding that, absent any direction from the territory, “it’s a bit of a wait-and-see.”

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