Questions remain as N.W.T. Legislature set to debate marijuana bill

N.W.T. MLAs will debate the Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Implementation Act this week before the Legislative Assembly breaks for the summer — when the federal government’s legislation is expected to take effect.

Government has yet to release price of recreational marijuana, or where it will buy it from

N.W.T. MLAs will debate and vote on the territory's proposed marijuana law in the legislature this week. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

With marijuana expected to become legal soon in Canada, the Northwest Territories will attempt to pass its law legalizing the drug.

The territory's MLAs will debate and vote on the Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Implementation Act this week before the Legislative Assembly breaks for the summer, when the federal government's legislation is expected to take effect.

Before the vote happens, regular MLAs will present amendments to the government's initial proposal announced last November.

Those recommendations will come out of meetings that happened when MLAs visited 17 communities in late April and early May. Community members and leaders raised concerns about how the sale of legal marijuana will be controlled in their communities.  

The government's proposed bill sets 19 as the legal age for possession and consumption, with a personal possession limit of 30 grams of dried cannabis or its equivalent.

Adults will be allowed to grow four plants and liquor stores would handle the sale of recreational marijuana. Communities would be able to hold referendums on restricting cannabis like they already do for alcohol.

On Monday, the legislative committee reviewing the bill will go through the bill clause by clause and recommend changes for MLAs to consider.

Kieron Testart, who represents Kam Lake, says even MLAs do not have a firm answer about key issues, such as how much marijuana will cost. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

On Tuesday, legislators will debate how the government will actually carry out regulations and policies relating to legal marijuana, said Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart.

Regular MLAs are concerned about what the market for legal marijuana will look like, and how to ensure marijuana does not exacerbate social problems already caused by alcohol.

"We're making a number of suggestions to improve the bill," Testart said. "To tighten up those sections and to allow communities and residents more access to legal cannabis or the ability to say no."    

How much will recreational pot cost? 

Despite the tight timeline, there are still key unanswered questions, like how much marijuana will cost per gram. It's also not clear where the liquor commission — which will be responsible for importing cannabis — will get its supply from.

Yukon recently announced it would set the starting price for pot at $8 per gram and most governments are basing their tax policies on the assumption that the price will be about $10 per gram for legal cannabis.

Statistics Canada data suggests the black market price is about $7 across Canada and about $9.50 in the N.W.T.

Even MLAs do not have a firm answer on what the territory plans to charge for pot, Testart said. But he added he would push Justice Minister Louis Sebert, the minister sponsoring the bill, for those details during the debate this week.  

"We need to smash the black market and the grey market and to make sure the drug dealers and gangsters aren't able to profit off cannabis anymore," Testart said.

"With no financial details to look at it, [it] makes it very difficult to look at whether these laws and the proposed policy framework is going to be effective."