North

Fort Simpson council votes against holding cannabis plebiscite

Fort Simpson councillor Sean Whelly says there's information about what holding a plebiscite would mean.

Dissenting councillor says there was misinformation about choices available to community members

Fort Simpson village council has voted against holding a plebiscite on whether to ban cannabis. (David Horemans/CBC)

The federal government says cannabis will be legal across Canada as of Oct. 17, but before then another deadline is looming for six N.W.T. communities.

Those with a liquor store — Yellowknife, Hay River, Inuvik, Fort Smith, Norman Wells and Fort Simpson — have until July 16 to notify the territorial government if they want to hold a plebiscite to decide whether to restrict or ban the sale of cannabis.

Thus far, council from the Village of Fort Simpson has voted against holding a plebiscite.

Fort Simpson councillor Sean Whelly says a plebiscite won't allow community members to decide where cannabis is sold. (CBC)

Voting in favour on June 18 were deputy mayor Liza McPherson and Coun. Michael Rowe. Sean Whelly was the sole councillor to vote against holding the plebiscite. Couns. Muaz Hassan and Chuck Blyth abstained, which under council procedures bylaw are treated as no votes.

"I'd rather just have the sale of the cannabis rolled out as proposed," said Whelly. "I have not heard from anybody in Fort Simpson [who have] had any big concerns with the idea of pot sales going ahead."

But he said since the vote, concerns have been raised by some community members, not about whether or not cannabis should be sold but about who gets to sell it.

Under the Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Implementation Act, which was enacted by the territorial government on June 1, cannabis will be sold through the territory's liquor stores or online.

Whelly said some people in Fort Simpson have raised issues with the liquor store selling cannabis, saying they would prefer it be done through private retailers or give the First Nation more control. 

He noted that if a plebiscite is held, community members will only be able to vote on whether to restrict or ban the sale of cannabis, not decide on where it will be sold.

"If people think that saying ... yes let's ban it or restrict it because we don't like where it's being sold right now, then they're not getting what they want," he said.

We can't say we're against the sale of marijuana and then say yeah well now we want to sell it privately or you know through First Nation control or something else.- Coun . Sean Whelly

"We can't say we're against the sale of marijuana and then say yeah well now we want to sell it privately or you know through First Nation control or something else."

Since the passage of the territorial bill, the government has six months to work on regulations for the private sale of cannabis. The bill allows the minister to designate a person to operate a cannabis store if it's "in the public interest" and the regulations will help guide the minister in making those decisions.

Communities that don't have a liquor store have until a cannabis retail outlet plans to open to alert the government that they want to hold a plebiscite.   

With files from Rachel Zelniker and Alyssa Mosher

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