North

Government pot survey sparks record response in N.W.T.

An online survey on marijuana legalization is receiving a record response in the N.W.T.

710 people submitted responses in a week, making it the most popular public engagement ever, says gov't

An online survey on pot legalisation is receiving a record response in the N.W.T. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

An online survey on marijuana legalization is receiving a record response in the Northwest Territories, garnering 710 submissions in just eight days — making it the most popular public engagement ever.

"Our response to the cannabis online engagement has been pretty outstanding to this point," said Mark Aitken, the assistant deputy minister (attorney general) for the territory's Department of Justice.

The territorial government-issued survey is gauging citizen opinion on a variety of pot-related issues, as federal legislation gives local governments leeway to create its own rules and regulations around pot.

The survey is anonymous, and whatever its results, the territorial government will have to have a new legislation in place by July, 2018.

Questions on minimum age, access in communities

Thoughts vary on what pot policy should look like in the North.

The survey includes concerns about road safety and the minimum age of pot consumption — which cannot be under 18, according to the federal government.

It also asks questions on whether remote communities should have the option to restrict access.

On the retail side, the survey offers two options: restricting sales of marijuana through a liquor commission or taking a hands-off approach and allowing sales to be treated like tobacco.

"I would certainly be happy with regulated storefronts, educated sellers," said Kim MacNearney, a medical marijuana advocate in Yellowknife who jumped at the chance to fill out the survey.

MacNearney said she hopes the government will distinguish between medical and recreational users with regard to usage in the workplace and impaired driving.

Community advocate Lydia Bardak offers a third retail alternative.

"Maybe through pharmacies would be better control then, because they're already controlling narcotics," Bardak said.

Bardak acknowledges the economic opportunity that marijuana can bring to the territory, but is concerned about early substance abuse in teenagers.

The territorial government told CBC News that there will be a mail order or fly in option for any community, no matter what retail model is chosen. But it will respect communities that decide to go down a prohibition path.

The online survey will run until Sept. 22, followed by a public report.

The government is sending 80 letters to Indigenous and community leaders this week asking for feedback. Nine community meetings are planned for the fall.

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