North

'We've been waiting': Fort McPherson locals discuss pot at cannabis consultation

Fort McPherson and Fort Resolution, N.W.T., kicked off MLA's community pot consultation tour that will visit 16 communities in 11 days.

MLA Kieron Testart says N.W.T. government dropped the ball in consulting, preparing communities

Elizabeth Vittrekwa was elected mayor of Fort McPherson, N.W.T., in 2017. She raised concerns about the impact the new cannabis bill will have on youth. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

About 25 people from Fort McPherson, N.W.T., showed up Monday night for a meeting on the upcoming cannabis legislation — the first of many consultations during MLA's whirlwind tour across the territory.

Fort McPherson and Fort Resolution kicked off the community pot consultation tour that will visit 16 communities in 11 days.

The Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Implementation Act, or Bill 6, is currently under review by the standing committees on social development and government operations.

MLA Kieron Testart in Fort McPherson, N.W.T., during the pot consultations this week. Testart said the territorial government dropped the ball in preparing and consulting communities on the upcoming pot legislation. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

Cannabis was scheduled to be legal throughout Canada on July 1 — but the expected date of legalization has since been pushed back.

Mayor Elizabeth Vittrekwa wrote a letter in February where she asked for consultations and meetings to occur in the hamlet on the upcoming legislation, after the government of the Northwest Territories went to only nine communities on their consultation tour last year.

"Since then, we've been waiting ... Everything stems down to education and we felt that our residents of Fort McPherson needed education in legalization of marijuana," said Vittrekwa.

A major concern that Vittrekwa raised throughout the meeting was how the bill will impact youth, and how often they will be surrounded by the substance.

She said that it's vital to increase education to youth on cannabis.

About 25 people attended the community consultation session on pot in Fort McPherson, N.W.T., Monday. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

The current draft of the bill says the territory's residents could legally smoke marijuana at 19, but Vittrekwa and many others in the room suggested the age to be increased to 21.

"A child's brain isn't fully developed until 21 to 25 … I would like to have more awareness for everyone that the kids are still growing and their brain is still growing," said Vittrekwa.

Plebiscite on pot

Fort McPherson held a plebiscite on alcohol in 2007 and people voted to put restrictions on alcohol. But Vittrekwa said until the meeting Monday, she didn't know it was a possibility to have a plebiscite on restricting cannabis as well.

Local resident Taig Connell said he would be in support of a plebiscite.

"The people I'm talking to, they don't want it," Connell said.

"I feel if we go forward and have a plebiscite, we would create the awareness that we want. How dangerous — we are stepping into something we don't know much about."

Connell said he appreciated the meeting, and that he got answers to many of his questions. But he added:  "[When] everybody leaves, I think we are just going to wind up just having another headache and problems to deal with."

Taig Connell said he supports a plebiscite on pot in the community. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

Committee Chair Kieron Testart said the government dropped the ball in preparing and consulting communities on the upcoming pot legislation.

"We heard that today, the lack of quality public information that has been presented to Northerners is really concerning to me."

Testart said the age increase is a component in the bill that could change, and he's interested to hear other communities' opinions on that topic.

Mayor Vittrekwa said she's happy about the meeting and hopes for more consultations going forward, but is also nervous that the community won't be prepared.

"The time is coming so quickly that it will be interesting to see and scary to see."

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