'It's a huge oversight': MLAs decry lack of money in N.W.T. budget for cannabis legalization

Legislation tabled in the N.W.T. legislature Wednesday fills in a lot of blanks as far as what legalized cannabis will look like in the territory.

Cannabis bill tabled in Legislative Assembly Wednesday

Cannabis as photographed in a facility in Ontario on Jan. 26, 2018. Legislation on how cannabis will be regulated in the N.W.T. was tabled Wednesday. (Evan Mitsui/CBCNews)

Legislation tabled in the N.W.T. legislature Wednesday fills in a lot of blanks as far as what legalized cannabis will look like in the territory.

The public received a sketch of these regulations on Nov. 24, when the territorial government released a nine-page report proposing rules that mirror federal suggestions:

  • minimum age for possession and consumption will be 19
  • adults will be allowed to possess 30 grams of cannabis and grow four plants per household
  • people will be allowed to smoke on their own property or some public spaces such as trails and parks — as long as there isn't a public event happening on those spaces and they're not places normally frequented by children

The legislation tabled today is a 63-page document that outlines the fine print around legal cannabis and proposed fines for breaking these rules.

But some MLAs are concerned about one very big question mark that remains — how much will all of this cost?

'Huge oversight': MLA

Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart pointed to the federal government, which has estimated legal cannabis will come with a $700 million price tag and $400 million in revenue.

Testart said this estimate (that the cost will outweigh revenues) should be a wake-up call to the territorial government.

"We need to educate people on how to safely use cannabis, we need to inspect cannabis, you know, there's a lot of issues around this that are uncosted," he said.

"We have no [public] estimates at this point … And that's a mistake."

Specifically, Testart is worried that the territorial budget, which was released earlier this month, doesn't include funding set aside for rolling out legal cannabis.

When it comes time for that money to be spent, territorial leaders will have to dig into its supplementary funding, he said.

"When the government is signalling we have a revenue problem, all those costs we know we are going to have to pay should be in that document," he said.

"It's a huge oversight."

Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green pointed to a public education campaign around cannabis the territorial government is planning to roll out alongside legalization.

Because no money has been earmarked for legalization, no money has been set aside for this campaign, Green noted.

"One of the real drawbacks here is that we haven't seen a budget for implementation," Green said.

"We just don't have a budget for that nor do we have any idea about the revenue that they're forecasting to come in so we don't know. We're kind of going into this blind."

Even if it isn't public, Green said the financial estimates tied to legalization might exist. If that's the case, she urged the government to share those numbers with MLAs.

"It's time for them to show their hand to us — even if confidentially so that we know in fact that they are ready," she said.

The Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Implementation Act is expected to pass two readings by the end of this sitting of the Legislative Assembly. The standing committee on government operations and the standing committee on social development will then take the proposed rules to communities across the territory for public feedback.

The N.W.T. government still aims to completely pass the legislation by this summer, to match the federal legalization timeline.