Is legal marijuana a good idea for Nunavut?

As the federal government moves toward legalizing marijuana, Nunavummiut are divided about the impact that will have on their territory.

The wheels of legalization are in motion in Ottawa, but not everyone in territory is convinced

A man is shown smoking a joint at the Fill the Hill marijuana rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sunday, April 20, 2014. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

As the federal government moves toward legalizing marijuana, Nunavummiut are divided about the impact that the move may have on their territory.

During last year's federal election campaign, the Liberals pledged to legalize pot, as several countries and U.S. states have done.

Pot smokers in Nunavut say it's great news.

"I smoke it on streets. I smoke it everywhere I want," says Corianna Manitok, 23. The Igloolik resident says she spends $2,000 per month on weed, but dreams of a cheaper buzz with legalization.

"It's kinda hard for the user to have an addiction like that and pay for what they have to eat," she said.

Nunavut defence lawyer James Morton said there's no doubt trafficking pot is lucrative for the territory's dealers. But marijuana is well down the list of problems that turn up in Nunavut's court system. Morton said alcohol is by far a bigger problem. He'd like to see pot legalized and regulated like alcohol.

"In the last couple of years I've represented five or six people who faced charges arising out of possession of marijuana," he said.

But not everyone thinks legalization would be good for the territory

Former Nunavut cabinet minister Manitok Thompson says she wants to see Nunavummiut consulted widely before legal marijuana becomes a reality in the territory. (Submitted by Manitok Thompson)
"In some studies it has been shown marijuana usage is also linked to suicides and with the highest rates of suicides in Canada [in Nunavut] I'm very afraid of more of that happening," said Manitok Thompson, a former territorial cabinet minister.

One such study in The Lancet Psychiatry journal found that frequent pot use by teenagers is linked to a greater likelihood of school dropouts and suicide attempts. 

If marijuana is legalized, Thompson says revenue must be put into treatment centres. She worries it will be easier for young people to get their hands on the drug and wants to see more education on the health impacts.

She also wants Nunavummiut to be heard on the controversial issue.

"I want better consultation, somebody that can go to the communities and listen to what the people have to say in both [Inuktitut and English] so we can get a better idea how we are going to move forward with this in our territory," she said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to set up a task force with all levels of government and seek input from experts in public health, substance abuse and police.