N.W.T. MLAs to give liquor stores a head start, but will allow private stores to sell legal cannabis

Private retail cannabis stores will be left out of the legal cannabis market in the Northwest Territories when the drug becomes legal, but the door is open for them to get in.

Government commits to set the rules on legal cannabis stores within 6 months

The standing committee on social development and government operations were responsible for the review of Bill 6: the Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Implementation Act. MLAs voted on the bill this afternoon. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Private retail cannabis stores will be left out of the legal cannabis market in the Northwest Territories when the drug becomes legal, but the door is open for them to get in.

MLAs rejected an amendment to the territorial government's cannabis legislation Thursday that would have required the finance minister to keep the door open for private cannabis stores as soon as legalization happened.

But a so-called "compromise" motion presented following that vote did pass.

It allows the government to designate any store it deems "in the public interest" and calls for the development of criteria for judging that interest within the next six months. That would still give liquor stores a head start on selling cannabis, but less than the two years originally proposed by the government.

During the debate, Health Minister Glen Abernethy announced it is the government's intention to issue licences to potential cannabis retailers.  

The cabinet along with regular MLAs Michael Nadli, Danny McNeely, and Herb Nakimayak, voted against the original motion; defeating the seven regular MLAs who supported it.

Before those stores are approved, seven liquor stores in six communities will be licensed to sell cannabis in the territory. The remaining communities without a liquor store would use a mail or online order system for legal cannabis.

MLA Tom Beaulieu came out as a passionate supporter of private sales, accusing the government of setting up a two-tier system: one for large, regional centres and another for small communities.

"I can't believe people would be so ignorant as to believe not having a store would prevent people from smoking cannabis, it's unbelievable," Beaulieu said. "Marijuana's been in the Northwest Territories since at least the sixties."

Beaulieu, who represents small communities in the South Slave region of the territory, compared alcohol and marijuana and the effects of the drugs.

"People don't smoke marijuana and commit heinous crimes, that's a fact. People can't dispute that, not here. Not anywhere," he said.

"If you're in a fly-in community you'll have to pay $700 or $800 if you want to purchase legal pot — that's in addition to the cost of the pot itself," he said.  

Mail order and online orders for legal cannabis would also help alleviate some of those concerns, Justice Minister Louis Sebert said in response.

Sebert described the bill as a "compromise" considering the tight timeline given the federal government to develop it.

"Yes this bill, bill 6 is a compromise, but we feel it is a reasonable compromise, under the circumstances," he said. "With the time pressure, we have responded, we have consulted and I believe bill 6 is the appropriate legislation."

MLAs came up with 22 amendments to the bill, including nine developed by the Justice Department, two from MLA Kevin O'Reilly, and 11 from the committee of the regular MLAs who reviewed the bill.


Alex Brockman live tweeted the debate at the Legislative Assembly Thursday. You can find a recap of the debate and his analysis on Twitter @BrockmanCBC

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated the regulations for private cannabis stores would come six months after legalization of cannabis. In fact, those regulations have been promised to come within six months of the N.W.T.'s cannabis legislation receiving assent.
    Jun 01, 2018 3:06 PM CT