North

N.W.T. communities not ready for legal marijuana, says Sahtu MLA

With little more than a year before the N.W.T. government must have its new pot laws in place, the gov't has begun a period of public consultations.

More questions than answers as gov't begins public pot consultation this month

Danny McNeely, MLA for the Sahtu, says N.W.T. communities are not ready for legalized marijuana. (Walter Strong/CBC)

There are more questions than answers as the Government of the Northwest Territories readies itself to introduce new cannabis legislation within the year, in light of federal marijuana legalization.

But one thing is certain for Danny McNeely, MLA for the Sahtu.

"They're not ready," McNeely said. "There has never been any community consultation other than social media articles that have been exposed via the paper, or other means, [like] on Facebook."

What about prohibition?

Some small communities in the N.W.T. have strict alcohol prohibitions or restrictions in place.

At a June 7 public meeting in Yellowknife, neither Louis Sebert, N.W.T. minister of justice, nor his advisors were able to say if those communities would be able to control cannabis distribution in the same way.

McNeely said communities will want to know the specifics of what legalized marijuana regulations will look like in the N.W.T. But specifics may be difficult for the GNWT to deliver at this point, through no fault of its own.

Marijuana legalization is a federal initiative. As such, local government — or self-government — would not be able to simply override federal laws, Sebert said.

As well, the extent to which local governments will be able to control marijuana possession and distribution, if at all, is not clear.

Mark Aitken, N.W.T. Assistant Deputy Minister, (Attorney General) Department of Justice, said the GNWT has asked the federal government to clarify whether or not local governments will have the authority to regulate the distribution of cannabis in a way similar to how those communities regulate alcohol now, but the federal government has yet to respond.

N.W.T. Assistant Deputy Minister, (Attorney General) Department of Justice, Mark Aitken, left, Minister of Justice Louis Sebert and Kelly Bluck, director of fiscal policy for the Department of Finance, outlined the GNWT's strategy to consult with N.W.T. residents on what legalized pot should look like in the territory at a public meeting on June 7. (Walter Strong/CBC)

Public consultation begins this month

The government is turning to the public to understand how people of the N.W.T. want to see legalized marijuana managed throughout the territory.

The public consultation process will begin later this month with an online survey. A series of public meetings will be held in September, with legislative proposals prepared by the end of October.

"Following the public engagement, we will be in a position to develop territorial legislation and to make decisions on a range of policy and operational matters necessary for implementation," Sebert said.

The government has just over a year to develop and implement its new pot laws. Aitken said it could be "easy to feel overwhelmed" by the task at hand.

The GNWT needs to establish laws and regulations surrounding, among other things, the legal pot consumption age; the means of marijuana distribution — whether through a liquor commission model, or through some other retail sales model; community-level prohibitions or restrictions; and potentially decreasing personal possession amounts as well as reducing the number of marijuana plants allowed per household.

A main goal of the public consultation is to determine how marijuana will be distributed in the territory. The answers to other questions surrounding taxation, revenue, and the overall control of the supply chain, depend on the sales model.

As far as the GNWT is concerned, the point of the legislation is not to raise government revenue, said Kelly Bluck, director of fiscal policy for the Department of Finance.

"The idea of taxation is not to raise revenue," she said. "The purpose of cannabis legalization is partly to destroy the black market, if we can."

The territory's government must have its new marijuana laws in place and implemented by July 1, 2018.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Mark Aitken as the attorney general. In fact, Justice Minister Louis Sebert is the attorney general.
    Jun 09, 2017 12:00 PM CT

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