Last stop in Behchoko for N.W.T. gov't cannabis tour of the communities

Behchoko was the final stop on the territorial government’s legal cannabis community tour that touched down in 9 communities over the past month to help inform Northerners about the pending cannabis legislation.

A small turnout greeted government officials in Behchoko for an information session on legalized weed

A community member raises his hand for a question at a legalized cannabis information session in Behchoko, N.W.T., Wednesday evening. (CBC)

Legal weed in the N.W.T. is all but a forgone conclusion. It becomes federal law next July.

Behchoko was the final stop on the territorial government's legal cannabis community tour that touched down in nine communities over the past month to help inform Northerners about the pending legislation, and to gather information to help territorial lawmakers make sure N.W.T. laws reflect the needs and concerns of its people.

"The federal government can do their own thing, but we should have our own legislation within the territory that reflects on our Northern communities [and] our people," said MLA Jackson Lafferty.

MLA Jackson Lafferty was at the meeting. He said he hopes the territorial government will be able to shape legislation to match the needs and concerns of Northerners. (CBC)

But made-in-the-North cannabis laws will face challenges, including possible limitations on just how much control communities will have over the supply of cannabis among their residents.

Behchoko Chief Clifford Daniels fears a mixed message for workers in his community when weed is legal during time off, but could get a person fired if they show up in the workplace with traces of drugs in their systems.

"Lots of people have been fired just due to having drugs in their system [after] drug testing at the mine sites," Daniels said. "If this becomes legal, but the workplace might have different policies in place, which trumps?"

Daniels doesn't doubt that legal weed could be a good thing in the long run, but between now and then many details remain to be sorted out.

One open question is what control communities will have over the presence of marijuana within their jurisdictions. In June, Sahtu MLA Danny McNeely said the communities were not ready for legal weed.

At the time, the Ministry of Justice was unable to say if federal legislation would leave room for the kind of community prohibitions or restrictions already in place regarding alcohol possession. At the close of Wednesday's meeting, that question remained unanswered.

Low attendance

The last stop on the legalization tour drew only about a dozen of Behchoko's 2,000 community members to the two-hour session at the Behchoko community centre.

Attendance was low. Chief Clifford Daniels said the turnout could have been thanks to the prevalence of marijuana in communities already, and the sense that there's little community members can do to shape the law. (Walter Strong/CBC)

Daniels said part of the low turnout could be attributed to the prevalence of cannabis in communities already, as well as the inevitability of cannabis legalization.

"This is in every community, it's everywhere," Daniels said. "We know this is going to happen, maybe there isn't too much we can say or do about the situation.

"It's something that used to be kept hidden," he added.

Behchoko Chief Clifford Daniels attended the territorial government's legalized cannabis workshop on Wednesday evening. (CBC)

"If it's legalized people can deal with it, those who are struggling with addictions, and possibly talk about the impacts it's having on them. It's something you can talk about now, compared to before when it was taboo and illegal. It will change how health workers can work with it."

According to Todd Sasaki, a spokesperson for the Department of Finance, the next step is to put together a report based on the consultations and approximately 1,100 responses to an online survey. The report will be made public, and is intended to inform N.W.T. legislators as they move forward.

The report is expected to be released mid-October.