Former N.W.T. leader wants training in small communities ahead of cannabis legalization

A former N.W.T. MLA is calling on the territorial government to train people in small communities to educate people about cannabis, as legalization looms.

Norman Yakeleya calls on territorial government to boost services; legalization scheduled for late summer

Former Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya wants to see people in small communities trained to educate people about cannabis ahead of legalization. (CBC)

A former N.W.T. MLA is calling on the territorial government to train people in small communities to educate people about cannabis, as legalization looms.

Norman Yakeleya is a former MLA for the Sahtu.

"People have a choice today and nothing is more powerful than giving people a choice," he said about legalization.

But Yakeleya added he believes people won't be able to exercise that choice wisely if they aren't provided the most up-to-date information about the risks associated with cannabis usage.

The government is working with a timeline to legalize cannabis by the end of summer.

Plans for the N.W.T.

In the N.W.T., the plan is to allow retail cannabis sales through the territory's liquor stores and offer government mail-order in communities without liquor stores. Community leaders will be able to decide for themselves whether they want to restrict or inhibit cannabis, much like they can do with alcohol.

Yakeleya mentioned research that shows cannabis can have adverse effects on brain development, and that smoking it can damage the lungs.

"We need a really basic understanding of cannabis and its effects," said Yakeleya.

"So [people] can make an educated, wise choice to use or not use."

To do that, Yakeleya is suggesting the territorial government educate people from the communities about the effects of cannabis, what the laws are, and how to manage unique challenges these small communities might face with legalization. He wants these people to take that information back to their peers at home.

He said this idea could work especially well in communities without RCMP detachments — currently there are 21 detachments serving the territory's 33 communities.

"Work with the elders," urged Yakeleya. "Get them to understand. Elders see it, they smell it, they know it, they knows it's in the communities. It's nothing new."

The Department of Justice is responsible for implementing cannabis legalization in the territory.

Spokesperson Ngan Trinh stated in an email that the department is developing educational materials about the health risks associated with cannabis.

Department representatives have also said the government's mail-order system will have mechanisms in place to make sure minors aren't able to order, although no details have been shared as to what those mechanisms will be.

As for the question of whether the government is considering the idea of training people in the community to share knowledge about cannabis, CBC was unable to get an answer by press time.