Nunavut scraps ban on homegrown cannabis in final version of its Cannabis Act

Nunavut was the last jurisdiction in Canada to pass its territorial Cannabis Act—just days before the federal government passed its own legislation.

Legal pot will first be available to Nunavummiut via online stores

Nunavut's Cannabis Act allows the territorial government to further regulate home-growing of cannabis at a later date. (Matilde Campodonico/Associated Press)

Nunavut was the last jurisdiction in Canada to pass its territorial Cannabis Act—just days before the federal government passed its own legislation.

Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced recreational cannabis will be legal across Canada Oct. 17, giving Canadian provinces and territories four months to prepare.

Nunavut's Act was given royal assent by Nunavut commissioner Nellie Kusugak on June 13, after a long day of line-by-line review by the Assembly.

Two changes were made from how the bill was first proposed.

The homegrowing of plants is no longer banned in the act itself, instead, the act was changed to say the territorial government can regulate whether plants can be grown at home. 

This gives the government the ability to draft regulations regarding homegrown cannabis, without having to go back and amend the act itself.

Bill C-45, the federal act, does not say whether or not the territory can ban plants, which leaves a "legal vacuum" for Nunavut to regulate homegrowing should it chose to do so, explained Thomas Ahlfors, the legislative counsel for Nunavut's Department of Justice.

"It's important to note that there is a distinction with respect to Nunavut's powers over intoxicants, which under the Nunavut Act, are greater than those of any other province or territory," Ahlfors told MLAs during their debate.

The other change was introduced by the MLA for Aivilik, Patterk Netser. He asked that cannabis be prohibited at all times in schools.

Previously, the proposed act had permitted the use of non-smoked cannabis outside school hours, if a temporary event license for the school had been approved.

Mail-order at first, stores could come later

At first Nunavut's Liquor and Cannabis commission will reach out to online retailers in other provinces on an initial two-year contract to sell cannabis to Nunavummiut,  later on a competitive government tender will be considered. 

This is because there are currently no licensed retailers set-up in Nunavut.

Stores and cannabis lounges will be permitted in Nunavut, subject to a community consultation process.

If existing stores, like the Northern stores and Arctic Co-ops, want to sell cannabis, they will have to go through the consultation process community by community. They will not receive a blanket store license.

Cannabis lounges will be like bars, where smoking of any kind — tobacco or cannabis — will be prohibited due to health hazards, but non-smoked cannabis will be allowed, explained Dan Carlson, the assistant deputy minister for the Department of Finance. 

"We're going to see a lot of evolution in what people think cannabis is, and how it's consumed over the next five years," Carlson told MLAs.

With files Michelle Pucci